Before coming to Easter Seals, I really didn't know how to engage in conversation when talking to an individual with a disability. Would I be sensitive to their emotions? How do I engage in an appropriate conversation? It was an uncomfortable feeling at first, but then I realized that it was no different than any other individual.
We are never taught in school the “proper protocol”, so where do we learn it from? Easy. Any individual or organization that has expertise or experience with working with children or adults with disabilities, but in case you don’t get the opportunity to do so in the near future, I can give you 10 tips on Disability Etiquette:
- If you don’t lean or hang on people, then probably best if you didn't on someone’s wheelchair. Wheelchairs are an extension of personal space.
- When talking with a person in a wheelchair for more than a few minutes, place yourself at the wheelchair user's eye level to spare both of you a stiff neck.
- When you offer to assist someone with a vision impairment, allow the person to take your arm. This will help you to guide, rather than propel or lead, the person.
- When talking with someone who has a disability, speak directly to him or her, rather than through a companion who may be along.
- Relax. Don't be embarrassed if you happen to use common expressions, such as "See you later" or "I've got to run", that seem to relate to the person's disability.
- To get the attention of a person who has a hearing disability, tap the person on the shoulder or wave your hand. Look directly at the person and speak clearly, slowly and expressively to establish if the person can read your lips.
- When greeting a person with a severe loss of vision, always identify yourself and others who may be with you. Say, for example, "On my right is Andy Clark" etc.
- When directing a person with a visual impairment, use specifics such as "left a hundred feet" or "right two yards".
- If you would like to help someone with a disability, ask if he or she needs it before you act, and listen to any instructions the person may want to give.
- Give whole, unhurried attention when you're talking to a person who has difficulty speaking. Keep your manner encouraging rather than correcting, and be patient rather than speak for the person.
Do you have any other tips to share? If so, post them below in our comments sections and share the knowledge.