Ten Commandments for Communicating with People with Disabilities

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  1. Speak directly to the person rather than the attendant/companion or sign language interpreter who is facilitating.
  2. Offer to shake hands when you are introduced. Offering your left hand is acceptable. People with limited use or artificial hands can still shake hands. In a multicultural society, handshakes might not be appropriate; a bow or other greeting should be used. Use your judgement.
  3. Identify yourself and others who are with you when you meet someone with a visual impairment. Identify the person you are speaking to when you are talking in a group.
  4. Do not attempt to help without asking, first. If you offer help or assistance, wait until the offer is accepted. Then listen for instructions. This is important with visually impaired or legally blind people. Do not grab them. Ask how you may help.
  5. Treat adults as adults. Do not call grown men and women with developmental disabilities – “boy(s)” or “girl(s)”. Call them by their names. Address or call people who have disabilities by their first names only when extending that same familiarity to the other people present. Never patronize people in wheelchairs or with developmental disabilities by patting them on their head or shoulders.
  6. Do not lean or hang on to someone’s wheelchair. Physically disabled people treat their wheelchairs as extensions of their bodies.
  7. Listen carefully when talking with people who have difficulty speaking. Wait for them to finish. Ask short questions that require short answers or which can be answered by a nod or shake of the head. If you don’t understand; ask them to repeat what they have said. Don’t pretend to understand.
  8. Place yourself at eye level when speaking with someone in a wheelchair or on crutches. Offer a person in a wheelchair the choice of sitting in a chair.
  9. Tap a hearing impaired person on the shoulder or wave your hand to get his or her attention. Look directly at the person, speak clearly, slowly and expressively to establish if the person can read your lips. If they can; face the light source. Keep your hands, cigarettes and food away from your mouth while you are talking.
  10. Relax. Don’t be embarrassed if you use common sayings such as ”See you later.”, “Did you hear?”, or other expressions which may relate to a person’s disability.

Based on the source: National Center for Access Unlimited/Chicago