Disability Etiquette Tips - The University of Tulsa

Disability Etiquette Tips

  • Some people prefer that we use person-first language, focusing on the person, not on the disability. Use person-first language (e.g., “person with a disability” instead of “disabled person”) unless the person tells you they prefer identity-first language (e.g., “autistic person,” or “disabled person”).
  • Treat the person the way you want to be treated: approach them using respect and ask if they want help before providing help. If the person does not want/need help, don’t be offended. Allow them to be the one in control.
  • Do not be afraid to make a mistake—it is okay if you do. Don’t overly worry about using common phrases like, “see you soon,” or “we’re going to walk over here.”
  • If needed, allow extra time for the person to respond or do things.
  • Speak to the person with the disability and not their assistant (if they have one, such as an ASL interpreter).
  • Some counters are too high for some people. It is courteous to come around the counter and provide service if it is too high. Offer alternatives if your typical service method does not work (e.g., allow someone to write down questions, provide a clipboard if they cannot access a secured check-in device, etc.).
  • Know the location of accessible routes and restrooms. Be prepared to give specific directions or ask if they would like you to go with them to the location to help them locate it.
  • Be encouraging and focus on the things the person can do instead of correcting things they cannot do.
  • Watch for barriers and remove them (e.g., items blocking hallways or doorways).
  • If a person uses an assistance animal, do not interrupt the animal and do not pet it.

People with Physical Disabilities

  • Avoid language such as “a person ‘confined’ to a wheelchair.” Use “a person who uses a wheelchair” instead.
  • In general, don’t touch someone’s assistive device (such as a wheelchair or cane). Ask before touching, moving, or pushing a person’s assistive device.
  • It is courteous to sit when talking with someone who uses a wheelchair rather than standing.

People with Cognitive, Intellectual or Psychiatric Disabilities

  • Speak clearly and slowly with simple language, but don’t over-exaggerate your mouth movements. Use diagrams or pictures if helpful.
  • Allow adequate time for someone to process the information before responding again. Ask if you are understood and explain using different language or a different method if you are not.

People with Hearing Disabilities

  • Ask the person how they prefer to communicate and try to meet that method.
  • If you need to get the person’s attention, wave your hand or lightly touch their shoulder.
  • Speak clearly and slowly with simple language, but don’t over-exaggerate your mouth movements. Use diagrams or pictures if helpful. If a person can lip read, be sure to face them and don’t chew gum.
  • Talk by facing the person and if you are leading them somewhere, turn around to them when you speak.
  • Don’t speak more loudly than typical unless you are asked to do so.
  • If you don’t understand them, it is okay to ask them to repeat themselves or to write it down.
  • Speak to the person with the disability and not to their interpreter or aide.

People with Visual Disabilities

  • To greet a person, identify yourself to them aloud. If you leave the area, tell them you are doing so.
  • If you are directing them, point out barriers such as “we are coming to about 5 steps,” or “we are going to turn left,” or “the doors open outward so stand back while they open.” If there are signs with Braille and they read Braille, identify where the sign is and allow them to touch it. Do not grab their arm to direct them. It is okay to ask if they would like to take your arm. It is also okay to ask if they would like you to place their arm on the back of a chair to identify a seat.
  • If a person needs help signing a document, ask if they would like you to place their hand on the signature line.
  • Offer alternative formats for materials and ask what format works best for them (such as large print, Braille, audio).