ETIQUETTE: COMMUNICATING WITH PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES
Please observe these basic principles when meeting and greeting persons with disabilities so as to avoid embarrassing mistakes and assumptions which may offend and reinforce discrimination against people with disabilities.
Using appropriate language is polite and promotes equality; using inappropriate language causes offence. Language should emphasise the person first and the disability second.
Here are some guidelines. Use:
- 1. Words which stress equality, dignity and active participation
- 2. Terms such as persons with disabilities or differently-abled persons rather than the disabled"
- 3. Terms such as person using a wheelchair, rather than wheelchair bound or confined to a wheelchair
- 4. Terms which do not refer to the person as his/her condition. Medical terms, such as dyslexic, do not reflect a person's abilities. If a person's condition must be referred to, identify the person first and the condition after e.g. a person with dyslexia.
- 5. Person without a disability rather than normal, healthy or able-bodied; Condition rather than disease or defect
- 6. Visually impaired rather than blind if a person is not completely blind
- 7. Instead of saying someone is crippled with, suffering from or afflicted with say, for example: John has epilepsy rather than John is suffering from epilepsy
- 8. Congenital disability rather than birth defect
- 9. Little person rather than midget
DO NOT USE WORDS LIKE:
- 1. Victim, cripple, deformed, invalid
- 2. Dumb, deaf, mute, blind as a bat, pitiful
- 3. Poor, moron, feeble-minded
MEETING AND GREETING; DO:
- 1. Shake a person's hand.
- 2. Offer assistance but wait until it is accepted and provide help in the way the person requested - don't be offended by a refusal.
- 3. Treat people as individuals and treat adults as adults.
- 4. As far as possible, speak to persons with disabilities directly and not via their assistants.
- 5. Ask how a person wants to communicate e.g. if they may want to lip-read, speak slowly and clearly; emphasise with gestures and facial expressions; face the light and don't cover your mouth.
- 6. When speaking with blind and visually impaired persons, introduce yourself and other people who are present and indicate their location.
- 7. When assisting blind and visually impaired persons, identify the physical outlay of the environment.
- 8. Remember you can use common expressions such as see you tomorrow or good to see you with visually impaired persons.
- 1. Lean on a person's wheelchair
- 2. Make assumptions about how someone wishes to be treated
- 3. Ask personal or medical questions
- 4. Talk down - try to get at the wheelchair user's eye level
- 5. Shout at deaf or hearing impaired persons but position yourself in their vision and attract their attention with a light touch or wave
- 6. Grab a blind or visually impaired person to guide them; let them take your arm; warn them about steps, doors and other obstacles
- You may sometimes find that you are apprehensive about how you should behave towards a person with a disability. Always remember that every person is different and some may find it easier to interact with some as opposed to others.
- Always remember that a person with a disability is a person. He or she is like anyone else, except for the challenges that his or her disability presents.
OVERALL ATTITUDES AND APPROACHES TO PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES
HOW TO HELP:
- 1. Introduce yourself and offer assistance.
- 2. Be courteous but not condescending.
- 3. Assist persons with disabilities when necessary or requested but do not discourage their active participation.
- 4. Respect a person’s dignity by allowing him or her to do what he or she wants to do for him or herself.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
- 1. Treat people as you would like to be treated.
- 2. Do not show pity for persons with disabilities. It is demoralising.
- 3. Persons with disabilities are NOT a homogenous group and have a wide variety of skills and personalities. We are all individuals.
- 4. Persons with disabilities are not sick, incompetent, dependent, unintelligent or contagious.