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Office for The Physically Challenged
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Breadcrumb Start you are here >Home/Disability Etiquettes

Disability Etiquettes

Disclaimer: Although we made every effort to validate the information presented herein, we assume no liability for any error or omission, or any action taken in reliance thereupon.

Guide Dog Etiquette:

Guide dogs are the guiding eyes for the blind or visually impaired people. These Dogs are specially bred and trained for this most important job. People must follow certain guidelines when meeting a guide dog so the guide dog and the handler remain safe. Disregarding these guidelines can distract the dog, which can create a dangerous situation for the guide dog team. Therefore, you must observe following etiquettes.

  • Do not touch, talk, feed or otherwise distract the guide dog while he is wearing his harness. Do allow the dog to concentrate and perform for the safety of his handler (the guide dog user).
  • Do not treat the guide dog as a pet. Do give the guide dog the respect of a working dog.
  • Do not give the dog commands. Do allow the handler to do so.
  • Do not try to take control in situations unfamiliar to the guide dog or handler. Do assist the handler upon his/her request.
  • Do not walk on the dog’s left side as he may become distracted or confused. Do walk on the handler’s right side, but several paces behind.
  • Do not attempt to grab or steer the person while the guide dog is guiding him/her, or attempt to hold the dog’s harness. Do ask if the guide dog user needs your assistance and, if so, offer your left arm.
  • Do not give the guide dog people food (e.g. table scraps). Do respect the guide dog user’s wishes.
  • Do not allow children to tease or abuse the dog. Do let the dog rest undisturbed.
  • Do not allow your pets to challenge or intimidate a guide dog. Do only let them meet on neutral ground when all parties can be carefully supervised.
  • Do not allow the dog on your furniture or in areas of the home where the handler does not wish it to go. Do ask the handler to correct any misbehavior or trespassing.
  • Do not let the dog out of the house unsupervised. Do understand it is a very valuable animal.
  • Do not make any eye contact with a working guide dog, especially when dog is wearing the harness.
  • Do not pat the dog on the head. Do stroke the dog on the shoulder area but only with its owner’s approval.

Meeting a Blind Person:

What To Do When You Meet Someone Who is Blind or Visually Impaired?

  • Remember, a blind person is a person who happens to be blind.
  • Feel free to offer your help to a blind person, but pay attention to how he/she responds. If you are not certain what to do, ask the person to explain how you should help.
  • When talking to a blind person, use a normal tone and speed of voice. Blindness does not affect hearing or intelligence.
  • Speak directly to the blind person, not to someone with him or her. Don’t consider a companion to be a kind of interpreter.
  • Introduce yourself and remember the person’s name. Address the person by name when you start a conversation. “Hi, Harry, my name is…”) Otherwise, he may not realize you are talking to him. If you do not remember the person’s name, and you want to speak to him, lightly touch him on the arm and say something to indicate that you are talking to him.
  • Speaking when you enter a room allows the blind person to know who is in the room with him/her. A simple “Hi” is fine.
  • When you are leaving the room, say so. Anyone would feel foolish talking into thin air. E.g., “good-bye, Sally; it was nice talking to you.”
  • If there is something unusual in the room, e.g. furniture that has been rearranged or a new pile of boxes, be sure to tell the person.
  • Do not grab the arm of a blind person to guide him/her. Allow him/her to take your arm and walk a half-step behind to anticipate curbs and steps.
  • Be specific in giving directions. If a person is to make a turn, say whether it should be left or right. If you are unsure how to give directions, ask how you may best assist him/her.
  • When using stairs, you should describe the number of steps, landings, and anything unusual about them. Do indicate the location of the handrail, but don’t grab the person’s hand.
  • When showing a blind person to a seat, direct him to the back or arm of a chair.
  • Warn the person of steps, ramps, narrow spots, and overhead obstacles.
  • When handing objects to a blind/visually-impair person, tell him/her you are doing so and then place it in his/her hands.
  • Blind people are generally accustomed to using words like “see” and “look.” You should feel free to use them too. Don’t say, “Come feel this” instead of “come see this.” The person will look at something in his or her own way - whether with hands or eyes.
  • The door to a room, cabinet, or a car left partially open can be a hazard to a blind person.
  • The senses of smell, touch, and hearing do not improve when someone loses his or her sight. A blind/visually-impaired person may rely on them more and therefore may get more information through those senses.
  • Many blind people are willing to discuss blindness with you if you are curious, but remember that it’s an old story to them, and you should never ask for personal details of how someone went blind if one is not willing to talk about it. Find a common interest and have a good time; they probably like as many things as you do.

White Cane Etiquette:

White cane is the name for a specifically designed and color-coded cane used by the blind people to navigate around. Several techniques are applied when navigating with it. Blind people are trained in the use of it. Sighted people often become confused when chance upon a blind person using White cane. There are things that sighted people can do to avoid tripping by the White cane.

  • If you see a blind person with White cane walking in your direction and about to run into you, do say something to indicate your presence (i.e. do not be standing silently).
  • If being a sighted-guide, i.e. assisting, a blind person with White cane, do not grab or steer the White cane. Have the blind person hold your elbow when you are guiding.
  • Do not take away the White cane from the person even if you are guiding him/her.
  • Do not use White cane for any other purpose than what it is designed for. The White cane is not designed to hold someone’s weight or to push heavy objects. The White cane is strictly a mobility tool.
  • In all fifty states, the law requires that drivers are to yield the right of way when a blind person with white cane crossing a street. The violation thereof may include monetary fine or imprisonment, or both.

 Wheelchair Rules:

You may know or come across a person-using wheelchair for his or her mobility. You need to be mindful of the following.

  • Do not push wheelchair in any direction without its owner’s permission.
  • If you need to walk pass the person using wheelchair and the space is limited, give a little time to a person-using wheelchair to maneuver out of the way. The safety of the person-using wheelchair is vital when navigating around.
  • If the person is utilizing an electric wheelchair, do not attempt to control his/her wheelchair without permission; this will insure the safety of the wheelchair user.

Communicating with People who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing:

  • Do be mindful that even a minor hearing problem can hamper a person’s ability to understand what you say.
  • Don’t assume that a hearing aid corrects hearing loss.
  • Do get the Deaf person’s attention before you begin to speak. It is acceptable to tap a person lightly on the shoulder or arm or to wave a hand, small piece of paper or cloth gently in the person’s direction to attract his or her attention.
  • Do face the Deaf or hard of hearing person and maintain eye contact throughout the conversation. Don’t talk directly to the interpreter, but always to the Deaf person.
  • Do stand close to the Deaf or hard of hearing person. Don’t let any object obstruct the person’s view of you; e.g., don’t talk while you write on a chalkboard.
  • Do make certain the Deaf person can clearly see your mouth and face. Don’t eat, smoke, chew gum or hold your hand in front of your mouth while you talk.
  • Do stand in a well-lighted place. Don’t stand with your back to a light source such as a window. This throws your face into shadow and makes it difficult to see clearly.
  • Do try to converse in a quiet place. Don’t assume that background noise makes no difference.
  • Do speak and enunciate clearly, but DON’T exaggerate your lip movements.
  • Do use your voice, but DON’T shout. Many Deaf people can get some information through sound, but shouting distorts both the sound of words and lip movements.
  • Do use facial expressions and body language to clarify your message. Don’t be embarrassed to be expressive.
  • Do rephrase sentences that Deaf people don’t understand. Don’t just repeat the same words repeatedly in the same sequence.
  • Do use pencil and paper or visual aids as necessary. Don’t be embarrassed about writing things down.
  • When addressing deaf-blind person, do speak by forming letters of the manual alphabet distinctly while he/she holds one hand lightly over yours to feel the position of your fingers. Be careful to move the fingers directly from the position of one letter to the next and pause slightly between words. If you or the person who is deaf-blind are unfamiliar with the manual alphabet, you can print capital letters in their palm. Be sure to pause between words.

People with Speech Disabilities:

A person, who is deaf, has a stammer, or other type of speech disability, and using voice prosthesis, may be difficult to understand.

  • Do give the person your full attention and do not interrupt or finish sentences for him/her. Do not just nod if you have trouble-understanding person’s speech, rather, do ask him/her to repeat it. Generally, a person will appreciate your effort to hear what he/she has to say.
  • If you want to be sure whether you have understood, you can verify with the person by repeating it. If you still cannot understand the person, ask him/her to write it down or to suggest another way of aiding communication.
  • A quiet environment always makes communication much easier.
  • Do not tease or laugh at a person who has a speech disability.

Persons of Short Stature:

Two-hundred growth-related disorders can cause dwarfism, which result in one being four feet ten inches or less in height. For any adult, being treated as cute and childlike because of the height can be a rough obstacle.

  • Be mindful of having needed items within his/her range to the maximum level possible. Do understand that individuals of short stature count upon being able to use equipment that is at their height. E.g., be thoughtful about not using lower telephones, urinals, etc. (specially if they are in limited supply).
  • As with people with other disabilities, never pat or kiss persons of short stature on the head.
  • Do understand that the communication becomes easier when people are at the same level. You might kneel to be at the person’s level, stand back so you can make eye contact, etc. This may not always be possible, however, such as in a crowded place. Do act naturally and follow the person’s cues.

People with Cerebral Palsy:

Because of injury to the central nervous system, people with cerebral palsy (cp) have difficulty controlling their muscles.

  • Persons with cerebral palsy may have slurred speech and involuntary body movements. Your reaction may be to discount what they are saying based on their appearance. Do be mindful of your replies and interact with the person as you would with anybody else.
  • A person may appear to be not so well, or have a medical crisis, might actually have cerebral palsy or another disability. Have the facts before acting on your first impression, whether the situation is social or otherwise.

People with Tourette Syndrome:

People with Tourette syndrome may make vocalizations or gestures such as tics that they cannot control. A small percent of people with Tourette syndrome may involuntarily say ethnic slurs or obscene words.

  • If a person with Tourette makes vocalizations throughout a conversation, do simply wait for him/her to finish, and then calmly continue the conversation.
  • Understand the more the person tries to contain these urges, the more the urges build up. It may be helpful for a person with Tourette to have the choice to leave the meeting or conversation shortly to release the build-up in some private place.

People Who Look Different:

People who may not be restricted in their life activities, but who are treated as if they have a disability because of their appearance, do also have challenges albeit a different ones. In short, people who look different have everyday experience of finding people staring at them, looking away or looking through them, as if they are invisible.

  • We need to have a self-worth for all to be fully participating and to be inclusive members of society. Be certain that you are not contributing to stigmatize people who look different.
  • If the situation is suitable, do initiate a conversation and include the person in whatever is happening.

People with Hidden Disabilities:

Not all disabilities are apparent. A person may make a request or act in a manner that might seem strange to you. That request or actions may be disability-related.

  • You may give ostensibly simple verbal directions to someone; however, he/she may ask you to write it down. He/she may have a learning disability, which makes written communication easier. A person may request to sit down while standing in line because of fatigued caused by some illness or the effects of medication.
  • Even though these types of disabilities are hidden, they are real; therefore, do respect the person’s needs or requests when possible.

People with Epilepsy or Seizure Disorders:

Epilepsy is a neurological condition characterized by seizures, which happens when the electrical system of the brain malfunctions. The seizures may be convulsive, or where one may appear to be in a trance. Throughout complex partial seizures, one may make movements while he is actually unconscious.

  • When a person has a seizure, you cannot do anything to prevent it. Do make sure that a person’s head is protected if he /she falls down, and wait for the seizure to end.
  • When the seizure has ended, a person may feel disoriented and embarrassed. Do try to assure that he/she has privacy to collect himself/herself.
  • Do realize that beepers or strobe lights can also trigger seizures in some people.

People with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity:

People with multiple chemical sensitivity and respiratory disabilities, such as asthma or emphysema, have reaction to toxins when found in the air, e.g., stale air, fumes, perfume, carpeting, air freshener, and the like. Even the fumes from magic markers can trigger a severe reaction.

  • Try to avoid spray-cleaning tables, windows or other surfaces while people are in your place of business. If you must use a spray product, spray or pour it carefully into the cloth, not into the air. Use less-toxic products when possible. People dealing with public, should take easy on fragranced body-care products like cologne, hair spray, hand lotion, and after-shave.
  • Maintaining good ventilation and indoor air quality will benefit all to stay healthier and more alert.

People with HIV & AIDS:

People with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or autoimmune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) have impaired immune systems, thus, their bodies have trouble fighting off infections.

  • You cannot catch HIV through casual contacts, e.g. shaking hands, so do not be afraid of touching or being touched by a person with AIDS.
  • A person with HIV or AIDS, however, is at substantial risk of getting an airborne infection. Be mindful of not putting someone else at risk.
  • People with AIDS feel stigmatized; therefore, by simply greeting or shaking their hand, you are letting them know they are accepted.

People with Psychiatric Disabilities or Mental Illness:

People with psychiatric disabilities may now and then have difficulties -- coping with the daily tasks/interactions. Their disorder may interfere with their ability to feel, think or relate to others. Most people with psychiatric disabilities are not violent. Among major obstacles they face are the people’s attitudes about them. Since it is a hidden disability, chances are you will not realize such a health condition.

  • Stress can affect a person’s ability to function. Do try to keep the pressure of the situation to a minimum.
  • People who have psychiatric disabilities have varying personalities and different ways of coping with their disability. Thus, some may have trouble noting social cues, while others may be supersensitive. One person may be very high energy, while other may appear sluggish. Do ask what will make him/her most comfortable and respect his/her needs to the maximum extent possible.
  • In a crisis, do stay calm and be supportive as you would with others. Ask how you can help, and find out if there is a support person who can be sent for. If proper, you might ask if he/she has medication that he/she needs to take.

People with Developmental Disabilities:

People with developmental disabilities learn slowly. They have a hard time using what they have learned and applying it from one setting to another.

  • Speak to the person in clear sentences, using simple words and concrete examples rather than abstract concepts. Do help him/her to understand any complex idea by breaking it down into smaller parts.
  • Do not use any childlike conversation or talk down to people who have developmental disabilities. Observe and gaze the pace of the complexity and vocabulary of your speech according to theirs.
  • Remember, he/she is an adult and, unless you are informed otherwise, can make his/her own decisions.
  • People with developmental disabilities may be anxious to please; therefore, questions should be formulated in a neutral manner to elicit accurate information. The responses can then be verified by repeating each question in another way.
  • It can be tough for people with developmental disabilities to make quick decisions; therefore, be patient and allow them to take their time.
  • A clear mark with pictograms will help a person with developmental disabilities to find his/her way around a facility.
  • People with developmental disabilities often rely on routine and familiar route to manage their work and daily living. A period of adjustment and some attention is required when there is change in the routine or the environment.

People with Learning Disabilities:

Learning disabilities are lifelong disorders that interfere with one’s ability to receive, express or process information. Although they have certain limitations, most people with learning disabilities have average or above-average intelligence. You may not realize that the person has a learning disability because he/she functions so well in one thing and has problems in another.

  • People with dyslexia, or other reading disabilities, have trouble reading written information. Give them verbal explanations and allow extra time for reading.
  • Do not be astonished if you convey someone very simple instructions, but he/she requests that you write them down. A person with learning disabilities, such as auditory processing disorder, may need information demonstrated or in writing because the spoken information is “scrambled” as he/she listens to it.
  • Do ask the person how you can best convey the information; be direct in your communication. A person with learning disabilities may have trouble grasping subtleties.
  • It may be easier for the person to function in a quiet environment without distractions, such as a radio playing, people moving around, etc.

People with Traumatic (or acquired) Brain Injury:

People with traumatic brain injury have had injury to the brain typically because of trauma, such as an accident or stroke. Some of the factors that affect people with learning disabilities also apply to people with traumatic brain injury. People with brain injury may have a loss of muscle control or mobility that is not obvious. E.g., a person may not be able to sign his/her name, even though he/she can move his/her hand.

  • A person with a brain injury may have poor impulse control.
  • A person may make inappropriate comments and may not understand social cues or “get” indications that he/she has offended someone.
  • In his/her frustration to understand, or to get his/her own ideas across, he/she may seem pushy.
  • A person with a brain injury may be unable to follow directions because of poor short-term memory or poor directional orientation. She/he may ask to be accompanied, although she/he does not appear to be mobility impaired.
  • If you are not sure that the person understands you, ask if she/he would like you to write down what you were saying.
  • A person may have trouble concentrating or organizing her/his thoughts, especially in an over-stimulating environment, like a crowded movie theater or transportation terminal. Be patient. You might suggest going somewhere with fewer distractions.

Emergency Evacuation Procedures for People with Disabilities:

People with disabilities must be considered in any facilities evacuation plan.

  • Compile a voluntary list of people with disabilities who are regulars at your facility, such as employees, students or residents. While you are compiling this list, let people know that even though they may not consider themselves of having a disability, they should be included if they may need help during an emergency (E.g. someone whose asthma may be triggered by stress or smoke). Keep the list updated to include people who are living with temporary disabilities, such as a pregnant woman or someone with a broken leg.
  • Interview each individual on the list to plan the most effective way to assist them in case of an emergency. E.g., a person with a cognitive disability may get confused and need assistance in following directions.
  • Also, develop a plan, including a voluntary sign-in, for an emergency that may affect people who are not attached to the facility, such as customers, theatergoers, patients or other members of the public.
  • Practice the evacuation procedures and keep your plans up to date.

Conflict Management:

Sometimes conflicts arise between people with disabilities and the places they visit for work, recreation, health care or education. These conflicts are usually the result of misunderstanding or a lack of information. Sometimes conflicts develop between people with disabilities who have conflicting needs. E.g., a person who has a hearing loss cannot hear the proceedings with the window open, but a person with multiple chemical sensitivity needs the window open for fresh air. Someone who uses a service dog may run into a conflict with a person who has an anxiety disorder and an extreme fear of dogs. All of these situations call for flexibility, patience, creativity, and open communication -- a willingness to listen to the other person’s perspective. Sometimes good faith efforts are not enough, and parties have difficulty working out their differences. In these cases, consider using the services of a skilled mediator.