The Americans with Disabilities Act, other laws and the efforts of many disability organizations have made strides in improving accessibility in buildings, increasing access to education, opening employment opportunities and developing realistic portrayals of persons with disabilities in television programming and motion pictures. Where progress is still needed is in communication and interaction with people with disabilities. Individuals are sometimes concerned that they will say the wrong thing, so they say nothing at all—thus further segregating people with disabilities. Listed here are some suggestions on how to relate to and communicate with and about people with disabilities.
Positive language empowers. When writing or speaking about people with disabilities, it is important to put the person first. Group designations such as "the blind," "the retarded" or "the disabled" are inappropriate because they do not reflect the individuality, equality or dignity of people with disabilities. Further, words like "normal person" imply that the person with a disability isn't normal, whereas "person without a disability" is descriptive but not negative.
The accompanying chart shows examples of positive and negative phrases.
Etiquette considered appropriate when interacting with people with disabilities is based primarily on respect and courtesy. Outlined below are tips to help you in communicating with persons with disabilities.
General Tips for Communicating with People with Disabilities
• When introduced to a person with a disability, it is appropriate to offer to shake hands. People with limited hand use or who wear an artificial limb can usually shake hands. (Shaking hands with the left hand is an acceptable greeting.)
• Treat adults as adults. Address people who have disabilities by their first names only when extending the same familiarity to all others.
• Relax. Don't be embarrassed if you happen to use common expressions such as "See you later," or "Did you hear about that?" that seem to relate to a person's disability.
Tips for Communicating with Individuals Who are Blind or Visually Impaired
• Speak to the individual when you approach him or her.
Tips for Communicating with Individuals Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
• Gain the person's attention before starting a conversation (i.e., tap the person gently on the shoulder or arm).
• If the individual uses a sign language interpreter, speak directly to the person, not the interpreter.
Tips for Communicating with Individuals with Mobility Impairments
• If possible, put yourself at the wheelchair user's eye level.
Tips for Communicating with Individuals with Speech Impairments
• If you do not understand something the individual says, do not pretend that you do. Ask the individual to repeat what he or she said and then repeat it back.
Tips for Communicating with Individuals with Cognitive Disabilities
• If you are in a public area with many distractions, consider moving to a quiet or private location.
Information for this fact sheet came from the Office of Disability Employment Policy; the Media Project, Research and Training Center on Independent Living, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS; and the National Center for Access Unlimited, Chicago, IL.
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