Respecting the PERSON with the Disability

More often than not, the biggest obstacle that a person with a disability can face

is the attitude or perception other people have about them; based solely on their disability.



ü       Just because someone has a disability, don't assume he or she needs help.

ü       Offer assistance only if the person requests it or truly appears to need it.

ü       If your offer is accepted, ask how to help before you act.


ü       Body position is essential for balance.  Unexpected touch - even if your intention is to assist - can knock people off balance.

ü       Assistive equipment and service animals are as much a part of personal space as electronic devices… like your laptop, cell phone, and I-pod!

ü       Whenever possible, place yourself at eye level with any person you are speaking with.


ü       Respect the person first:  say “person with disability” instead of “disabled person.”  If you focus on the disability you only see the disability.

ü       Respect privacy. People like to share their ideas, hopes and dreams, not their obstacles.  

ü       If you are not sure how to introduce someone, ask.

ü       Respect needs and requests whenever possible. 

ü       Say "wheelchair user," rather than "confined to a wheelchair" or "wheelchair bound." Remember, the wheelchair enables the person to be mobile and participate in society; it's liberating, not confining.


ü       Some disabilities are “invisible.”  If a person makes a request or acts in a way that may seem unusual to you, that request or action may be disability-related.

ü       Always ask about preferences for relaying and recording information.

ü       Some people who have trouble with processing visual information (reading or watching) and will need to have information presented in a verbal format.

ü       Some people have trouble processing auditory information (listening or hearing) and will need to have information demonstrated or presented in a written format. 

ü       Some people who have trouble with physically recording information (writing) and may need to have information recorded or outlined. 


ü       Give the person your full attention. Don't interrupt or finish their sentences.

ü       If you have trouble understanding, don't nod. Just ask the person to repeat. Most people don’t mind repeating themselves when they know you are interested in what they have to say. 

ü       If you are not sure whether you have understood, repeat or rephrase their sentence for verification. Be direct in your communication to avoid misunderstanding.

ü       If necessary, ask about alternate ways of facilitating communication. Follow the person's cues to find out if sign language, gestures, or writing are options for exchanging information.

ü       If you have trouble understanding the speech of a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, let that person know.  Questions can always be asked that only require short answers or a nod of the head for clarification.


ü       Always speak directly to the person you are conversing with, not the companion, aide or sign language interpreter offering translation. Use the same tone, volume, and expression you would with anyone else.

ü       Always face the person you are speaking with, as well as the light source. If your back is toward a light source the glare may obscure your face and make it difficult for a person to lip read. Avoid chewing gum, smoking or obscuring your mouth with your hand while speaking as well. 

ü       Remember that hearing aids are calibrated to normal voice levels; shouting will just sound distorted. 

ü       Speak clearly; rephrasing sentences instead of just repeating them can help others understand you. 

ü       If your message still isn’t being understood, try speaking slower, using clear, simple, concrete sentences.

ü       Gauge the pace, complexity, and vocabulary of your speech according to the person you are speaking with.


ü       Stress affects everyone’s ability to function and communicate. Don’t add to the pressure of the situation.  Stay calm and be supportive.

ü       Ask if you can help and how you can help BEFORE you do so. 

ü       If the person is unable to communicate it is considered appropriate to determine if there is a support system in place for emergencies. 

ü       In certain crisis situations it is appropriate to ask a person for pertinent information about their disability (ie medication for diabetic shock or seizures). 

ü       It can be difficult for people with certain disabilities to make quick decisions, so be patient and allow the person as much time as they need to think through their response. 

ü       Some people with certain disabilities rely on the familiarity of routine and environment to succeed.  Be aware that a change in the environment or in a routine may require a period of adjustment.