Disability Etiquette

By Melanie Chongolola-Nestor

June 9, 2016

Often when people think of diversity race and sex are the only things that come to mind. But diversity is much more varied than that (see what I did there?). Diversity also includes gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, culture, emotional intelligence, income and physical ability.

Here at YIKES, diversity is a very important part of the company. From sponsoring and participating in TechinColor and Girl Develop It events to making sure the websites we create are accessible; we strive for inclusivity in everything we do.

But there are some things that are an individual’s responsibility to learn so that they can thrive in a diverse environment. That is why I decided to attend a Disability Etiquette training presented by MossRehab. Disabilities are universal and not necessarily congenital. Someone that you meet who uses a wheelchair may have had to their entire life, or they may be the victim of a recent accident. Considering how quickly all of our physical states can change; I think understanding the best way to interact with a person that has a physical disability can help you become more empathetic towards everybody.

The session was really informative, and I would like to share with you what I felt were the most important takeaways.

  1. Don’t refer to people by their diagnosis. Instead of saying ‘Paul is Autistic’ say ‘Paul has Autism’.
  2. Always use person first language. Never refer to a person by their state.
  3. If a person is in a wheelchair; don’t touch their chair as it’s considered a part of their personal space. If they appear that they need help ask and wait for a response. An unexpected push could throw a person in a wheelchair off balance and out of their chair.
  4. When you encounter a person who is blind or has limited vision announce your arrival and departure so that they are aware of your presence. A simple ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ can clear up a lot of confusion to somebody who isn’t able to see their company.
  5. Aphasia is a general term for people who have difficulty speaking. If you’re speaking with a person who has aphasia be patient and let them finish what they are saying. Even if you think you know what they want to say, it’s just rude to interrupt or speak for someone who can speak for themselves.
  6. If you meet somebody with a prosthetic limb (say a right hand for example); follow their lead. Maybe a left-hand handshake or a fist bump is more appropriate. But that’s for them to decide.
  7. Do not distract or pet service animals. I know they look so sweet and docile, but they are working very hard to help somebody get through their day. Would you like it if somebody stopped you from getting your work done?

And please remember that Disability Etiquette is not just about finger wagging and watching your tongue. Technology is changing everyday making more people who were considered ‘disabled’ able. At the top of this post are the old vs new international accessibility signs. The new sign embodies ability and progress. I think that is something we should all try to embody.