Disability Etiquette

In previous posts I have talked a little bit about what it is like to live with a disability and how important it is to support those people faced with such barriers. For this weeks blog I wanted to briefly touch on disability etiquette or what staff members at Goodwill have often heard referred to as “people first language.”

It’s easy to get caught up in a disability, especially a visible one, but it is important to take a step back and remember that no one is the disease, disability or illness they happen to have. They are a person..

The National Organization on Disability (NOD) created a booklet for anyone, with or without a disability, to use in order to interact more effectively with people with disabilities. Being sensitive towards the language used around people with disabilities isn’t just good business sense in the work place but a common courtesy overall.. Phrases and stereotypes are commonly used, which means not everyone knows the appropriate method to interact with others. This guide could be a great tool to get people started.

Some useful tips include:

Remember that not all disabilities are apparent. A person may make a request or act in a way that seems strange to you. That request or behavior may be disability-related.

Ask before you help. Just because someone has a disability, don’t assume she needs help. Adults with disabilities want to be treated as independent people. Offer assistance only if the person appears to need it. A person with a disability will oftentimes communicate when she needs help. And if she does want help, ask how before you act.

Be sensitive about physical contact. Some people with disabilities depend on their arms for balance. Grabbing them, even if your intention is to assist, could knock them off balance. Avoid patting a person on the head or touching his wheelchair, scooter or cane. People with disabilities consider their equipment part of their personal space.
Think before you speak. Always speak directly to the person with a disability, not to his companion, guardian, aide or sign language interpreter. Making small talk with a person who has a disability is great; just talk to him as you would with anyone else.

Don’t make assumptions. People with disabilities are the best judge of what they can or cannot do. Don’t make decisions for them about participating in any activity.

There are 200 diagnosed types of growth-related disorders that can cause dwarfism and that result in the person being 4 feet 10 inches or less in height. For an adult, being treated as cute and childlike can be a tough obstacle. For persons of short stature communication can be easier when people are at the same level. You might kneel to be at the person’s level; stand back so you can make eye contact without the person straining her neck; or sit in a chair. Act natural and follow the person’s cues.

Put the person first. Say “person with a disability” rather than “disabled person.” Say “people with disabilities” rather than “the disabled.” For specific disabilities, saying “person with Tourette syndrome” or “person who has cerebral palsy” is usually a safe bet. Still, individuals do have their own preferences. If you are not sure what words to use, ask.

For the complete booklet on disability etiquette visit: http://www.unitedspinal.org/disability-etiquette/.

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