The American Disabilities Act turns 31 years old this year. It was a landmark civil rights law that made it illegal to discriminate against a person due to their disability. This law set the standard for transportation systems, accessibility to jobs, apartments, and much more. Despite this act, a person with a disability often feels left out from their peers, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
General Etiquette Tips
These general etiquette tips apply to most people with disabilities.
The Golden Rule: Treat Others How You Want to be Treated
Always treat others in a way you wish to be treated because that fosters respect in both parties. Introduce yourself as you would to anyone else; you don’t have to overthink this. A person may have a disability, but that isn’t all they are, and focusing too much on that will come off as rude. How would you like it if someone kept commenting about something you’re aware of?
Don’t Give Assistance Without Asking
Although your intentions are pure, it’s still rude to grab someone and help them up when they haven’t asked. You wouldn’t do that to your other friends, so why are you grabbing at a person who’s disabled? One of the reasons why practicing disability awareness is so important is because it helps others see that a person who is disabled is just as capable as anyone else.
Don’t Use Labels While Speaking
There are a few words and sentences that are still a part of our lexicon that dehumanize and hurt people with disabilities. It’s common for others to treat a person with a disability as if they’re children by patting them on the head, calling them pet names, or using other language that equates them to being less-than. Just avoid labeling altogether for everyone.
Stop Patronizing or Showing Pity
A person with a disability isn’t a victim; they are human beings that happen to have a disability. Showing pity for someone, especially when they aren’t feeling sorry for themselves, is like telling the other person they should find a reason to feel bad. However, people with disabilities find their life normal and accessible; they just have to do a few extra things to feel comfortable.
How to Engage with Different Disabilities
These engagement tips can help make the individual you’re speaking to feel more comfortable.
Engage with someone sitting down by sitting down yourself, and don’t touch a person’s property (their wheelchair, cane, or walker) without permission. Ask a wheelchair user before trying to pull them out of the chair, and take no for an answer. Be sensitive to inaccessibility, and adapt around it. Always speak to the individual and not the care attendant or assistant.
Hard-of-Hearing and Deaf
Tap someone who is deaf on the shoulder, or wave your hand gently to gain their attention. Many people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing are capable of reading lips, so speak towards them in the same way you would speak to others. Be expressive when you talk to them, as they can understand your tone through your mouth and eye movements.
Visual Impairment and Blindness
People who are considered legally blind are still able to see shapes and light changes. Give clear directions when a person who is blind asks where you are or where to find you. Saying “Over Here” won’t help. With their permission, offer your arm when you’re leading a person who is blind, and place your hand on their back or front when they’re seating themselves.
Speech and Language
Don’t interrupt or finish the sentence of a person with language or speech difficulties. If you couldn’t hear what the person said, ask them to repeat it politely. It’s okay to ask if a person with speech difficulties would be more comfortable writing down what they’re trying to say. Being patient will help the person with speech difficulties get their message across.