Accessibility & Disability Etiquette

Respect

  • All people deserve respect regardless of whether they are a person with a disability or a person without a disability.
  • Disability is intersectional.
  • Do not make assumptions about a person’s abilities. Always presume competence.
  • People with disabilities are not broken, missing something, or less-than those without disabilities.
  • The greatest barriers to equality for people with disabilities is the negative perceptions and associations made by others toward or about them. By showing respect and presuming competence we remove this barrier, opening the door to greater equality.

Social Etiquette

  • Listen attentively and communicate clearly. If you are engaging with someone with a speech disability and you did not hear them clearly, let them know you would like for them to rephrase or repeat what they said.
  • Use the same tone of voice you would use speaking to anyone. Do not “baby” your voice or speak loudly/shout at someone with a disability.
  • Do not touch someone’s assistance animals or assistive mobility device without asking.
  • When speaking to someone with a disability, speak to them directly even when a parent, companion, assistant, aide, or interpreter is present.
  • Do not fall into the Pity or Pride association with disability. Feeling sorry for someone or calling them brave for simply existing or leaving the house sets a patronizing and demeaning tone. And, though we all like to hear praise from time to time, putting someone with a disability on a pedestal or overpraising them is just a positive spin on othering them and putting distance between your humanities.
  • Do not ask about someone’s disability, especially if you do not know each other well. This is putting the disability first. You wouldn’t usually ask sensitive details of someone’s life when you just meet them, so this goes for the subject of disability towards people with disabilities as well.
  • If someone is using a wheelchair, do not lean on it or grab it. This is part of their personal space and you must be given consent to engage with anyone physically.
  • Just because you cannot see someone’s disability does not mean they are faking it, making one up, or lying to you. Not all disabilities can be seen by others such as asthma, diabetes, learning disabilities, etc. but they should be respected.

Assistance

  • Do not automatically assume someone with a disability needs your help or assistance. Give assistance when requested and offer assistance when it seems appropriate, but do not force your “help” on others.
  • When giving directions, pay attention to accessible pathways, entrances, etc. For people with vision loss, be sure to be descriptive about directions using directional cues (take a full right at the end of the block) rather than visual cues (take a right up the gravel path after the fire hydrant).
  • If someone with low-vision asks for assistance for walking, offer them your elbow rather than grabbing their hand or arm.
  • When speaking to someone who’s deaf or hard-of-hearing or who has auditory processing difficulties, ask the person what they need. Many people rely on lip-reading, so need you to face them while speaking. They may need you to wear a mic that syncs with a hearing device.

Language

  • Avoid negative associations with the person and their disability.
  • Do not call someone with a disability “brave” for doing tasks otherwise deemed mundane.
  • Refrain from using ableist language that is discriminatory and demeaning to those with disabilities:

Inappropriate

Appropriate

Wheelchair bound, confined to a wheelchair Wheelchair user, or (insert name) uses a wheelchair
Mentally retarded Person with developmental or cognitive disability
Handicapped, crippled Person with a disability or Disabled person
Insane, crazy, nuts Person with a mental health, emotional or psychiatric disability OR term of person’s choice
Autistic or Person with Autism/Aspergers Defer to the person’s choice of language; many autistic people strongly prefer identity-first terminology
Mute Person with a speech disability or communicative disorder or defer to person’s preference