Manner Monday®: Disability Etiquette

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For the past few years, I’ve worked with the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council.  Every summer they put on an amazing camp, the Youth Leadership Forum.  I can’t say enough about the remarkable work Ann, Jen, and their team do for our state!

The Youth Leadership Forum is always one of my favorite events during the year, and I always feel like I end up learning more from the students than I think they learn from me!

Here are a few things about Disability Etiquette that I think are important:

Don’t let fear keep you from getting to know people who have a disability.  Remember: a person with a disability is a person with feelings. Treat him or her with the same respect you wish to be treated.

You cannot always see a disability. If a person acts unusual or seems different, just be yourself.  Let common sense and friendship break down any barriers you may encounter.

Key Points of Disability Etiquette:

  • Don’t stare.  Staring is disrespectful and makes people feel uneasy.
  • Avoid asking personal questions about someone’s disability. If you must ask, be sensitive and show respect.
  • Be considerate of the extra time it might take for a person with a disability to do or say something.
  • Be polite and patient when offering assistance, and wait until your offer is accepted. Listen or ask for specific instructions.
  • Refer to a person’s disability only when necessary and appropriate.
  • Use people first language – refer to the individual first, then to his or her disability.  It is better to say “the person with a disability,” rather than “the disabled person.” Other examples of people first language are:  Uses a wheelchair; has cerebral palsy (CP) or other condition; person with Down syndrome; person with Autism; person with a mental or emotional disorder.
  • Don’t pet or distract a guide dog.  The dog is responsible for the owner’s safety and is always working.  It is not a pet.

One of the biggest lessons I have learned is to speak to the person with the disability, not just to the ones accompanying him or her.  It may take a little more time and effort in the exchange – but it will be well worth your time to focus on the individual.  Put yourself in their position, you would want the same courtesy extended to you – right?!



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