Respect and etiquette are key elements for successfully communicating in today’s society. Yet for some people unfamiliar with developmental disabilities, it can be difficult to know what to say or do. That’s why UCP of Sacramento and Northern California has the following etiquette tips to help you become a more effective communicator when working with people with disabilities. These guidelines address specific issues that frequently arise when communicating with people living with developmental disabilities, however, because everyone is different, these guidelines only hold true for most individuals most of the time.
General Etiquette Tips for Communicating with People with Disabilities
- When talking to a person with a disability, speak directly to that person rather than through a companion or sign language interpreter.
- Communicate clearly.
- When introduced to a person with a disability, it is appropriate to offer to shake hands. When in doubt, ask. And remember with a spoken greeting that a smile is always appropriate.
- If you offer assistance, wait until the offer is accepted. Then listen to the person or ask for instructions.
Persons Using Wheelchairs Etiquette Tips
- When speaking with a person who uses a wheelchair or a person who uses crutches, place yourself at eye level in front of the person to facilitate the conversation.
- Leaning on, or hanging on to, a person’s wheelchair is similar to leaning on, or hanging on to, a person and is generally considered annoying. The chair is part of the personal body space of the person who uses it.
- Never patronize people who use wheelchairs by patting them on the head or shoulder.
Disability that Affects Speech Etiquette Tips
- Listen attentively when you’re talking with a person who has difficulty speaking. Be patient and wait for the person to finish, rather than correcting or speaking for the person.
- If necessary, ask short questions that require short answers, a nod or shake of the head.
- Never pretend to understand if you are having difficulty doing so. Instead, repeat what you have understood and allow the person to respond. The response will clue you in and guide your understanding.
Cognitive Impairment Etiquette Tips
- Keep your communication simple. Use short sentences.
- Allow the person time to respond.
- Do not talk down to them.
Visual Disability Etiquette Tips
- When meeting a person who is visually impaired, always identify yourself and others who may be with you. When conversing in a group, remember to identify the person to whom you are speaking.
- When departing, don’t leave the person without informing him/her.
- When asked to guide someone, never push or pull the person. Offer your arm and allow him or her to reach for you, then walk slightly ahead. Point out doors, stairs, and curbs as you approach them.
Hearing Impaired Disability Etiquette Tips
- To get the attention of a person who is deaf, tap the person on the shoulder or wave your hand.
- Look directly at the person and speak clearly, slowly, and expressively to determine if the person can read your lips. Not all people who are deaf can read lips.
- Talk directly to the person even when a sign language interpreter is present.