What is disability etiquette? Disability etiquette is a set of guidelines regarding engaging with individuals with disabilities. While political correctness is part of it, it is but one component of a larger human rights issue and social problem that many people struggle with every day. How do you communicate with others around you that may have mobility issues or physical limitations? Here is what everyone needs to know to create a safe, comfortable, and respectful environment.
Disability etiquette is a set of practices and protocols that outline and define how to best approach and engage somebody that has a disability. It is not uncommon for society to assume someone does not live with a disability when they do not use obvious mobility aids and devices; assumptions can compromise inclusion. Disability etiquette first emerged in the 70s- though it has evolved and changed over the many years since. Know that disability etiquette is more than political correctness – which primarily targets spoken word and written language, and that aims to end the reinforcement of negative stereotypes through verbal discrimination.
These disability etiquette guidelines ensure a comfortable, inviting, and accessible situation for all:
The foundation of disability etiquette is language and communication. Language shapes perceptions; words can be powerful. Changing how we talk to and engage those with a disability can alter the way that they feel about the world- as well as how others observing the interaction feel. This can have ripple effects in terms of either reinforcing or overcoming stereotypes.
Inclusive language requires that you put the person first, ahead of their disability. Since a disability does not define anyone, they are individuals with disabilities rather than the ‘disabled’. If the individual living with the disability prefers to self-identify differently, please honor their wishes politely and respectfully.
Another element of disability etiquette is common sense, though intuition also plays a role. Be organic and authentic in your interactions with others, including those with disabilities. Use your intuition to identify how you would want to be treated in a particular situation and then replicate this with your actions and words. Be a thoughtful listener, patient, and kind, and speak directly to the individual, regardless of whether they are accompanied by a caregiver, interpreter, or companion. This demonstrates respect and most people respond to this when it is genuine. On the flip side, if you are normally a prickly or harsh individual, do not sugar coat your interactions; be your authentic self.
So, beyond language and common sense, what are the other disability etiquette guidelines? Here are a few:
- Do not treat adults as children.
- Ask if assistance would be helpful, rather than inform.
- Engage directly with the individual, not their caregiver or companion.
- Do not ask strangers questions about their condition.
- Always offer and ask before assisting someone.
- Respect others’ dignity and autonomy.
- Treat all people with the same level of courtesy and respect.
- Do not be condescending.
- Do not speak for someone else unless they ask you to.
- Do not admonish children that are curious or that want to ask someone a question.
These seem like practices in common courtesy, and they are! Disability etiquette is just that: etiquette. Good manners go a long way toward fostering a sense of trust, loyalty, and even friendship. Consider how harsh words or condescending behaviors impact those with disabilities or mobility issues; these benchmarks of disability etiquette are something that we all should strive for all the time.
Think about the stereotypes and assumptions that those with disabilities endure, day after day. This reinforces why etiquette is important to us all. Think about any preconceived ideas you have- do you make any of the following assumptions?
- Someone with a disability wants or needs help.
- If someone is physically disabled, they likely have other medical issues.
- Disabled people are victims that seek sympathy from others.
- Individuals with disabilities are accompanied by caregivers when you see them in public with companions.
- Those with disabilities do not mind being asked about their condition or they want to discuss it publicly.
- Someone who does not appear to need assistance is faking their disability.
Do you live with a disability? Consider these tips for disability etiquette and demand respect from those around you. These practices are fundamental toward creating an environment of inclusivity and empathy- whether at home, school, or work. You may be surprised at how others echo how you act and what you say- positivity is truly contagious. For mobility aids and service, reach out to the professionals at Pacific Mobility; they improve quality of life every day for those living with physical limitations or mobility issues. Call or visit today!
President, Husband, Father, Grandfather Graduate of UC Davis- Bio Sci Major- Go Aggies! Jeff has extensive experience in all of Pacific Mobility’s products and services, and specializes in accessibility products as well as stairlifts, ceiling lifts and custom wheel chairs. His hobbies include spending time with family, gardening, mountain biking, exercising and off road motorcycle riding.
24 years as Owner/President of Pacific Mobility Center – selling, installing, and servicing stairlifts, porch lifts, ceiling lifts, pool lifts, handicap ramping, specialty wheelchairs, scooters, power wheel chairs, and other power mobility devices
Certified Environmental Access Consultant since 2008
Licensed General Contractor since 1998
Certified Aging in Place Specialist since 2016
Board Member for Home Access Professionals
Member of Association of Members of the Accessibility Equipment Industry (AEMA)