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DISABILITY AWARENESS

ETIQUETTE: COMMUNICATING WITH PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES

Observe these basic principles when meeting and greeting persons with disabilities so as to avoid embarrassing mistakes and assumptions which may offend and reinforce discrimination against persons with disabilities.

LANGUAGE

Using appropriate language is polite and promotes equality; using inappropriate language causes offence. Language should emphasise the person first and the disability second.

Here are some guidelines. Use:

  • 1. Words which stress equality, dignity and active participation
  • 2. Terms such as persons with disabilities or differently-abled persons rather than "the disabled"
  • 3. Terms such as wheelchair user, rather than "wheelchair bound" or "confined to a wheelchair"
  • 4. Terms which do not refer to the person as their condition. Medical terms, such as dyslexic, do not reflect a person's abilities. If a person's condition must be referred to, identify the person first and the condition after e.g. a person with dyslexia.
  • 5. Non-disabled rather than "normal", "healthy" or "able-bodied" Condition rather than "disease" or "defect"
  • 6. "Visually impaired" rather than "blind" if a person is not totally impaired
  • 7. Instead of saying someone is "crippled with", "suffering from" or "afflicted with", say, for example: "John has epilepsy" rather than "John is suffering from epilepsy"
  • 8. Congenital disability rather than "birth defect"
  • 9. Little person or dwarf rather than "midget"

DO NOT USE WORDS LIKE:

  • 1. Victim, cripple, deformed, invalid
  • 2. Dumb, deaf, mute, blind as a bat, pitiful
  • 3. Poor, moron, feeble-minded

MEETING AND GREETING; DO:

  • 1. Shake a person's hand.
  • 2. Offer assistance but wait until it is accepted and provide help in the way the person requested - don't be offended by a refusal.
  • 3. Treat people as individuals and treat adults as adults.
  • 4. Talk to persons with disabilities and not to their assistants.
  • 5. Ask how a person wants to communicate e.g. if they may want to lip-read, speak slowly and clearly; emphasise with gestures and facial expressions; face the light and don't cover your mouth.
  • 6. When speaking with blind and visually impaired persons, introduce yourself and other people who are present and indicate their location.
  • 7. When assisting blind and visually impaired persons, identify the physical outlay of the environment.
    Remember you can use common expressions such as "see you tomorrow" or "good to see you" with visually impaired persons.

DO NOT:

  • 1. Lean on a person's wheelchair
  • 2. Make assumptions about how someone wishes to be treated
  • 3. Ask personal or medical questions
  • 4. Talk down. Avoid stiff necks - try to get at the wheelchair user's eye level
  • 5. Shout at deaf or hearing impaired persons; but position yourself in their vision and attract their attention with a light touch or wave
  • 6. Grab a blind or visually impaired person to guide them; let them take your arm; warn them about steps, doors and other obstacles

  • Overall Attitudes and Approaches to Persons with Disabilities

  • You will sometimes find that you are apprehensive about how you should behave towards that individual. Always remember every person is different and some may find it easier to interact with some as opposed to others. Always remember that a person with a disability is a person. He or she is like anyone else, except for the challenges that his or her disability presents. Be patient and admit if you do not understand someone because he or she has difficulty with his or her speech or uses some form of communication aid.

  • When speaking to deaf or hearing impaired persons, try to have someone interpret (translate) for you. Some non-verbal people prefer to write their communications down on paper, some use sign language and some use a sign board.

HOW TO HELP:

  • 1. Introduce yourself and offer assistance.
  • 2. Be courteous but NOT condescending.
  • 3. Assist persons with disabilities when necessary or requested but do not discourage their active participation.
  • 4. Respect a person’s dignity by allowing him or her to do what he or she wants to do for him or herself.

THINGS TO REMEMBER

  • 1. Treat people as you would like to be treated.
  • 2. Do not show pity for persons with disabilities. It is demoralising.
  • 3. Persons with disabilities are NOT a homogenous group and have a wide variety of skills and personalities. We are all individuals.
  • 4. Persons with disabilities are not sick, incompetent, dependent, unintelligent or contagious.