Disability Etiquette

A Little about Disability Etiquette from Trinayani Foundation

With the intent to create a welcoming and relaxed environment for everyone, here are some basic ground rules regarding etiquette we should all keep in mind while interacting with persons with disabilities.


There is nothing to be afraid of. Shed all fear and come forward to meet a person.


Just because someone has a disability, don’t assume he/she needs help. If the setting is accessible, people with disabilities can usually get around fine. If you offer help wait until the offer is accepted, then listen to or ask for instructions. Do not be offended if the offer of assistance is turned down.


People with disabilities are the best judge of what they can or cannot do. Don’t make decisions for them about participating in any activity.

NEVER EVER TEASE OR LAUGH AT A PERSON WITH A DISABILITY. People with disabilities are individuals with families, jobs, hobbies, likes and dislikes, and problems and joys. While the disability is an integral part of who they are, it alone does not define them. Don’t make them into disability heroes or victims. Treat them as individuals.

People with disabilities consider their equipment part of their PERSONAL SPACE so do not play around with their assistive devices.

When meeting people who have a hearing impairment:

  1. Do not begin a conversation with a hearing – impaired person until he/she has noticed you and is prepared for it.
  2. Talk directly to the person, even when a sign language interpreter is present.
  3. When you are speaking to a hearing impaired person, do not shout or exaggerate your lip movements.
  4. Rephrase, rather than repeat, sentences that the person doesn’t understand.
  5. If the person you are speaking to is lip reading, make sure you are facing the light. Look directly at the person and speak at your normal volume.
  6. Speak clearly. Most people who are hard of hearing count on watching people’s lips as they speak to help them understand. Avoid chewing gum, smoking or obscuring your mouth with your hand while speaking.
  7. Where possible ask questions that require short answers.
  8. Do not pretend to understand if you do not. Repeat what you understand and ask again.
  9. It is not rude to ask “Are you deaf?”  But do not use the terms “hearing impaired,” or “deaf and dumb.”


When you are with a person who has mobility impairment or other physical disability:

Wheelchair Users

Mobility impairments include a broad range of disabilities that affect a person’s independent movement and cause limited mobility. Mobility impairments may result from cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, stroke, arthritis, muscular dystrophy, amputation, polio or other conditions. Mobility impairments may take the form of paralysis and may result in muscle weakness, nerve damage, stiffness of the joints, or lack of balance or coordination.

Very specifically remember:

  1. Don’t assume the person has an intellectual disability.
  2. Speak directly to the person, not to an attendant who may be with him or her.
  3. Do not push, lean on, or hold onto a person’s wheelchair unless the person asks you to. The wheelchair is part of his or her personal space. Always ask whether assistance is required or not.
  4. Try to put yourself at eye level when talking with someone in a wheelchair so that he or she will not get a stiff neck from looking up for a prolonged period. Sit or kneel in front of the person.
  5. When arranging to meet a person who uses a wheelchair, always give the person prior notice so that time is allowed for arrangement of transportation.
  6. Rearrange furniture or objects to accommodate a wheelchair before the person arrives.
  7. Offer to tell where accessible rest rooms, telephones, and water points are located.
  8. When assisting a wheelchair user to go up or down more than one step, tilt the wheelchair back at all times while descending or ascending the stairs
  9. When helping to guide a wheelchair user down an incline, grasp the push handles tightly so that the chair does not go too fast.
  10. Avoid inappropriate terms such as “cripple,” “confined to a wheelchair,” “bed-ridden,” “wheelchair-bound,” “deformed” and “suffering from a disability.” Instead, use terms such as “person with a physical disability” or” person who uses a wheel-chair.”
  11. Never pat someone using a wheelchair on the head.

When you are with a person who has a speech and language disorder:

  1. Don’t assume the person has an intellectual disability.
  2. Pay attention, be patient, and wait for the person to complete a word or thought. Do not finish it for the person.
  3. Don’t pretend you’ve understood if you haven’t.Ask the person to repeat what is said
  4. Be prepared for various devices or techniques used to enhance or augment speech. Don’t be afraid to communicate with someone who uses an alphabet board or a computer with synthesized speech.
  5. Respect the effort and the ability of the person to communicate effectively. Always remember that he/she needs to be taken seriously just the way you do. It is important to all of us.
  6. Please remember that the speech of persons who have had had a stroke, or are severely hard of hearing, or use voice prosthesis or have a stammer or other type of speech disability may be difficult to understand.

When you are with a person who is blind, Deaf-blind, or has vision loss:

  1. Identify yourself when approaching the person and say where you are standing in relation to that person. (e.g., “Hello, I am Ritika, standing on your left.”), also introduce anyone else who is present. Also describe the layout and location of furniture if required.
  2. When offering a handshake, say something like “Shall we shake hands”?
  3. When asked to guide someone with a sight disability, never push or pull the person. Never hold the arm of the person while walking. Let the person hold your arm.  This will allow the person to walk slightly behind you and the motion of your body will indicate what the person can expect.  Offer verbal cues as to what is ahead when you approach steps, curbs, escalators, or doors.When you come to a step, say whether it’s a step up or a step down.
  4. When talking to a group, which includes people with visual impairments, ALWAYS remember to say the name of the person to whom you are speaking. Do not leave someone talking to an empty space. Tell that person when you wish to end a conversation or to move away.
  5. It really is okay to say things like “See you soon.”  Feel comfortable using everyday words relating to vision, like “look,” “see,” or “read.”

If you serve food to a person who is blind, let that person know where everything is on the plate according to a clock orientation (twelve o’clock is furthest from them, six o’clock is nearest). Remove garnishes and anything that is not edible from the plate.

When you are with a person who has an intellectual disability:

  1. Speak in a normal tone of voice.
  2. Use simple words and short sentences.
  3. Talk with the person even though he or she may not be verbal enough to respond. Introduce yourself and say that you are pleased to meet the person.  Shake hands if that seems appropriate.
  4. Give one piece of information at a time, and repeat if needed.
  5. Do not be condescending.
  6. Be polite and patient.  Do not treat an adult like a child.
  7. Use age appropriate topics and conversation. Find commonalities for your conversation –      movies, TV shows, sports events, church activities, families.
  8. Be generous, but appropriate, with compliments when the person has accomplished a task, or taken initiative.
  9. Don’t make assumptions about what anyone can or cannot do.