General Do’s and Don’ts

  • Relax and enjoy getting to know your colleagues or guests as people and as professionals
  • Ask before you provide assistance
  • Do not assume that a person with an apparent disability needs assistance; offering assistance in broad terms such as Let me know if you need anything opens the door without assumptions of inability
  • Think in terms of ‘Disability Pride’ language using powerful words such as: wheelchair user as opposed to confined to a wheelchair or wheelchair person; person who is deaf or blind rather than deaf or blind people

Individuals with Mobility Disabilities

  • Do not touch a person’s mobility equipment
  • Be sensitive about physical contact in consideration of possible pain, balance, or post-traumatic stress issues
  • Always direct your conversation that is meant for the person with a disability to them and not to their personal assistant, interpreter, companion or colleague
  • If convenient and natural, put yourself at the person’s eye level when engaging in a conversation; rather than kneeling, pull up a chair

Individuals who are Blind or Low Vision

  • Identify yourself when approaching the person or entering an ongoing conversation; announce when you leave the conversation or the room
  • When serving as a sighted guide, offer your arm or shoulder rather than grabbing the person’s arm or pushing the person from the back
  • Describe the setting, environment, and obstacles when serving as a sighted guide
  • Resist the temptation to pet or talk to a guide or service animal; ask the person if there is a time when you can interact with the service animal
  • Offer to read the information if the occasion naturally arises such as during a roundtable or a meal

Individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

  • Gain the person’s attention before starting a conversation (e.g., tap the person gently on the shoulder or arm or by a hand signal)
  • If the individual uses a sign language interpreter, speak directly to the person, not the interpreter; keep your eyes on the individual and not on the interpreter, especially when the interpreter is voicing for the person who is deaf
  • Face the person, speak in normal tones, and avoid the instinct to shout as it doesn’t help

Individuals who have Speech Disabilities

  • If you do not understand what the person is saying, ask the person to repeat what they said and then repeat it back to ensure you understood
  • Do not speak for the person or attempt to finish their sentences
  • If the conversation is not working, explain that and ask if you can try with writing (e.g. electronic communication devices, paper and pencil, etc.)

Individuals who have Non-Apparent Disabilities

If you sense that the conversation or interaction is not going well, the following strategies may help to accommodate non-apparent disabilities such as mental health disabilities, learning disabilities, autism spectrum, mild hearing loss, ADD/ADHD, and Post Traumatic Stress:

  • Moving to a quiet area
  • Rephrasing what you said
  • Changing the pace of the conversation