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10 Commandments of Etiquette for Communicating with People with Disabilities

The following communication pointers will help you more effectively communicate with people with disabilities.

  1. When talking with a person with a disability, use eye contact and speak directly to that person rather than through a companion or sign language interpreter.
  2. When introduced to a person with a disability, it is appropriate to offer to shake hands. People with limited hand use or who wear an artificial limb usually can shake hands. Shaking hands with the left hand is an acceptable greeting as well.
  3. When meeting a person who is visually impaired, always identify yourself and others who may be with you. When talking in a group, remember to identify the person to whom you are speaking.
  4. If you offer any assistance, wait until the offer is accepted. Then listen to or ask for instructions.
  5. Treat adults as adults. Address people who have disabilities by their first names only when extending the same familiarity to all others. Never patronize people who use wheelchairs by patting them on the head or shoulder.
  6. A wheelchair is part of the personal body space of the person who uses it. Leaning on a person's wheelchair is similar to leaning on the person and is generally considered inappropriate.
  7. Listen attentively when you're talking with a person who has difficulty speaking. Be patient and wait for the person to finish, rather than correcting or speaking for the person. If necessary, ask short questions that require short answers, a nod or shake of the head.
  8. When speaking with a person who uses a wheelchair or a person who uses crutches, place yourself at eye level in front of the person to facilitate the conversation.
  9. To get the attention of a person who is deaf, tap the person on the shoulder or wave your hand. Be sensitive to those who lip read by placing yourself so that you face the light source and keep hands and food away from your mouth when speaking.
  10. Relax. Don't be embarrassed if you use common expressions such as "See you later" or "Did you hear about that?"-that seem to relate to a person's disability. It's okay to ask questions when you're unsure of what to do.


Contact Us

Mental Health America of Jackson County
P.O. Box 51
Seymour, IN 47274
Phone: (812) 522-3480
Fax: (812) 524-8176
E-mail: mhajc@cabjackson.org