Disability Etiquette – Interacting with People with Disabilities

7.5% of our country’s population is currently living with a disability. This means that you are highly likely to meet a person living with a disability even if you don’t currently have someone like this in your family or within your friendship circle.

Unfortunately, interacting with someone living with a disability can be a great source of anxiety for able-bodied individuals. Fear not – it’s very much the same as interacting with anybody else. Below, we’d like to point out a few things to get you up to speed with disability etiquette so that you can interact and communicate with confidence.

Treat Them as Normal…

Because they are. Treat them with the same kindness and respect that you would an able-bodied person. Look them in the eye when talking to them and avoid talking down to them or coming across as patronising in any way. If the person uses a wheelchair and you are having a conversation, sit down if you can so that you’re at their same eye level.

Know Your Terminology

It’s considered rude to use the following terminology:

  • Disabled person
  • The disabled

Instead, say:

  • Person living with a disability
  • People living with disabilities

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

If you’re ever unsure about how to interact with a person with a disability, don’t hesitate to ask them. Ask them if they would like any help and ask them what terminology they prefer (many will have their own unique preferences).

Understand Personal Space

Many people are unware of the fact that the majority of people living with disabilities consider their mobility equipment to be a part of their personal space. Don’t lean on or move their wheelchair, cane or scooter without their permission.

Be Patient and Accommodating

If someone has a disability that makes it difficult for them to communicate, listen attentively and avoid finishing their sentences for them. If the person is hard of hearing, do your best to speak loudly, enunciate and always look directly at them when talking. If the person struggles with mobility, ask them if they would like any assistance and, if not, wait patiently for them to get to where they are going.

By knowing and embracing disability etiquette, we’re all one step closer to ensuring improved integration for people living with disabilities, uniting and strengthening our community both now and for the future.


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