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Disability Etiquette

People with disabilities make up the largest minority group in the U.S. It has become increasingly vital to gain knowledge on appropriate behavior while interacting with this ever-expanding portion of the population. Many of us may need guidance in adapting to the needs of people with disabilities and adopting a new outlook when socializing. It is important to show individuals with disabilities the same consideration and courtesy that you expect for yourself.

As always when thinking of proper etiquette practices it is best to think before you speak. Not only can words hurt, but they may also cause you to appear insensitive even if nothing personal was meant by those words. As described in our sexual harassment newsletter, your intentions are not always taken into account only the impact your behavior has on others. So choose your words carefully, see our tutorial for more info on cultural norms.

When speaking to a person with a disability you should speak directly to that person. It is not necessary to speak to his/her aid or companions. When a person is addressing you, you would not want him/her to overlook you and direct his/her conversation to the people surrounding you. This rule is universal.

At times people may need a little extra assistance, but don’t make assumptions. Wait to be asked for help and then respond tactfully. Asking if a person needs assistance may sometimes be in order as well, but wait for a response and directions before jumping to action. This is especially important for people with mobility and/or visual impairments.

Wheelchairs
Always respect the personal space of others and be thoughtful about physical contact. Touching people’s chairs without permission, leaning on or across their chairs, asking them to hold things for you, and patting them on the head or shoulder are all unseemly behaviors. While you may be making an attempt at assisting them, you may hurt them or cause them to fall. Be mindful of reach limitations and when asked offer assistance. Make an effort to keep a mobility-friendly facility and staff.

Visibility
There are a variety of circumstances that may cause visual impairments, low vision, legal blindness and severe low vision. Relating with people who have specific visual needs can be somewhat different for those without them.

People with visual impairments may need help with reading, navigating your facilities, and directions. So when asked offer to read things aloud to them or offer material in large print when suitable. It may be applicable to give them a tour of the facility and notify them when changes are made. Always keep walkways and doorways clear. When giving directions use specific nonvisual communication. Always identify yourself, the people who are with you and your position before making physical contact. Notify the person if you are leaving and give him/her the locations of the nearest exits.

Hearing
When communicating with a person who is deaf or hard-of-hearing you must always keep his or her disability in mind, as it is much different than speaking with someone with perfect hearing. It is important to put your active listening skills to use and maintain eye contact. Also use a sign language interpreter when needed. Everyone is not great at reading lips. Follow his or her cues to notice whether he/she prefers gesturing, writing, speaking or sign language.

When using a sign language interpreter look directly at the person to which you are speaking,

not the interpreter. Don’t make decisions for them. People want to be involved in decision-making processes that concern them. Always speak with clarity and never shout. Lastly, TTY services have become very popular so don’t hang up if you receive a relay call from a TTY relay service.

Speech
When interacting with people with speech impairments give them your undivided attention. Don’t just nod when they are speaking to you; if you don’t understand ask them to repeat. Then, repeat it back to them for verification if you are still unsure. If you still cannot understand ask them to write it down.

Learning Disabilities
It is reported that one in every five people in America has a learning disability. Much like many other disabilities they are growing in numbers, so we must learn how to respectfully connect with them. Ask how to best relay information. Most often the best communication method is to be direct. They may need information written down or demonstrated. Give verbal instructions and explanations and allow extra time for reading, particularly for those who have dyslexia and other reading disabilities.

Keep noise and distractions, such as music, erratic movements, bright lights and loud patterned curtains or wallpaper, at a minimum. Always remain patient and allow him/her to take his/her time. Allow an adjustment period when routines are broken or changed.

Psychiatric
Psychiatric disabilities and disorders may hamper a person’s educational and/or occupational progress tremendously. From problems concentrating to negative interaction with others, psychiatric disabilities can play

huge role in a person’s failure to succeed. Thus we should make our best effort to reduce the amount of pressure and stress on him/her and remain calm and supportive.
Treat the person as an individual and find out how you can help and what makes them most strengthened and comfortable. During an emergency find out if there is a support person to be contacted. Then respect those needs. Everyone needs help with something or another periodically, so be understanding. By adapting to these guidelines and possibly adopting your own, on a case by case basis, you will find that you will become a much more effective communicator. You will also allow for growth in your school, workplace and life

by taking an inclusive stance and encouraging diversity.

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