Beyond training your employees about disabilities and making sure everyone has a clear understanding of the basics of disability etiquette, you’ll want to make sure everyone in your company understands the best ways to interact with people who have various disabilities.

This list of practical tips for some common disabilities, in addition to general disability training, can represent a baseline of etiquette for interacting with these various disabilities. For more information, check out our section on common types of disabilities.

Interacting with a Person Who …

Uses a Wheelchair

  • Rearrange objects to accommodate a wheelchair before the person arrives
  • Consider distance, weather conditions and physical obstacles (curbs, stairs, steep hills, etc.) when giving directions to a person in a wheelchair
  • Don’t push, lean on or hold onto a person’s wheelchair unless the person asks you to. The wheelchair is part of his or her personal space.
  • Know where to find accessible restrooms, telephones, water fountains, etc., in case the person asks for help with finding them
  • See additional tips below for mobility challenges

Is Deaf/Hard of Hearing

  • Let the person take the lead in establishing the communication mode, such as lip-reading, sign language or writing notes
  • Talk directly to the person, even when a sign language interpreter is present
  • If the person lip-reads, face him or her directly, speak clearly and with a moderate pace
  • In large meetings, have people raise their hands and have the meeting leader point to the next person who speaks; this will allow for easier lip-reading, or for appropriate time for the interpreter to begin signing
  • Don’t be afraid to ask and answer questions
  • Don’t position yourself in front of a window or harsh light or the person who is deaf or hard of hearing will have difficulty seeing you
  • Don’t talk over other people

Has a Speech Impairment

  • Pay attention, be patient and wait for the person to complete a word or thought – don’t finish it for them
  • Ask the person to repeat what is said if you don’t understand. Tell the person what you heard and see if it’s close to what they said.
  • Be prepared for various devices or techniques used to enhance or augment speech. Don’t be afraid to communicate with someone who uses an alphabet board or a computer with synthesized speech.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask and answer questions
  • Try moving to a quieter area if you’re having difficulty hearing or understanding

Has Vision Loss/Impairment, Blindness

  • When greeting the person, identify yourself and introduce others who may be present
  • When asked to guide someone with a sight disability, never push or pull the person; allow him or her to take your arm, and then walk slightly ahead. Point out doors, stairs or curbs as you approach them.
  • As you enter a room with the person, describe the layout and location of furniture, etc. Be specific when describing the location of objects.
  • Don’t leave the person without excusing yourself first
  • Don’t pet or distract a service dog; the dog isn’t a pet – it’s responsible for its owner’s safety and is always working.

Has a Cognitive Disability

  • Keep your communication simple. Rephrase comments or questions for clarity.
  • Stay focused on the person as he or she responds to you
  • Give the person time to tell or show you what he or she wants
  • Ask the person to repeat what they said if you don’t understand. Tell the person what you heard and see if it’s close to what they said.

Has a Mobility Challenge

  • Ensure accessible locations for work areas and meetings, and wide aisles that are close to the primary work space
  • Provide extra time to get from one work area to another
  • Provide priority seating in meetings and trainings
  • Arrange for notes/minutes to be given to employees after meetings
  • Make computer equipment software (speech-to-text, word prediction, keyboard modifications) available when possible
  • Provide accessible parking in close proximity to the building
  • Arrange for adjustable desks and/or tables in work areas
  • Allow for advanced planning for business trips, when possible, to ensure accessibility

Has a Mental Health Condition

  • Avoid stereotypes and assumptions about the person and how he or she might act
  • Recognize but respect when people are acting differently than they typically do. Keep in mind that a person acting out of character may have difficulty interpreting social cues.
  • Be patient. Give the person time to think and answer questions.
  • Know that stress can aggravate a situation. Taking steps to alleviate stress may de-escalate the situation.
  • In a crisis, stay calm and be supportive. Ask how you can help and send for a support person if possible.

Remember, this is only a limited list of disabilities. However, know that there are many resources out there in etiquette and support for people with various disabilities; being proactive about learning can only benefit your inclusive culture in the long run.

And the more you know, the better you will be able to talk about your disability inclusion initiative.

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