Do you ever feel hesitant when it comes to communicating with a friend, client or customer who has a disability? How would you know if you have ever offended a person who has a disability? Some people fear they will either embarrass themselves or come across as insensitive when interacting with anyone who has a disability.
Regardless of whether you are a disability support worker or if you know someone with a disability, you may find it beneficial to learn more about disability etiquette.
Each individual is unique in respect of when their disability commenced or how it was diagnosed, as well as how it affects them day to day. So it’s important to keep in mind that the below tips are just general recommendations, and if you are ever feeling awkward or are in doubt of how to behave in a particular situation with someone who has a disability, just ask! In the majority of cases, people with a disability are experts in their own needs.
Always ask before you help
Never assume that someone needs help just because they have a disability. While you may have only good intentions, there is a risk you may actually come across as inconsiderate and offensive. Simply ask if they would like assistance, wait patiently until your offer is accepted, and either ask or listen for instructions if required. Even if your offer is refused, at least you have been friendly and helpful!
Be sensitive about physical contact
It’s a good idea to ask permission before touching someone’s wheelchair or mobility aid, as people with disabilities may consider their equipment as part of their personal space. Grabbing people could actually have the reverse affect and knock them off balance as well as causing offence – so again don’t make any assumptions.
Avoid asking personal questions about someone’s disability
Just as you probably do not want to divulge your health history or answer personal questions to everyone you meet, it is important to respect others’ feelings and refer to their disability only when necessary. It is important to not make assumptions regardless of how someone looks to you based on first impression.
Treat people with respect and dignity
Avoid words that might cause offence, such as ‘cripple’, ‘victim’, or ‘a patient’. Use your normal tone of voice, speaking directly with eye contact to the person with disability, be patient and understanding.
Every interaction is a learning experience. Relax and have fun getting to know more people with disability in your community.
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