For those who are unsure of how to interact with and help people with disabilities, our occupational therapist Mr Ng Shixian outlines some basic etiquette to keep in mind.
Language often shapes our perception. Using ‘people first’ language (‘person with disability’, ‘person with visual impairment’ rather than ‘a disabled’, ‘the blind’) helps remind us and others that people with disabilities are people first, and are more than their disability.
Never assume that people with disabilities always require your assistance. It is polite to offer your assistance. Once your offer is accepted, wait to be advised on what help is needed. Do not be offended if your offer is refused. Many people with disabilities will prefer to do things independently if they are able to.
Identify yourself when approaching a people with disabilities (especially person with visual impairment) and tell them when you are leaving.
When introduced to a people with disabilities, it is appropriate to offer to shake hands. People with limited hand movement or who wear an artificial limb can usually shake hands (shaking hands with the left hand is also an acceptable greeting).
Respect all assistive devices (ie. wheelchair, walking stick, communication board etc.) as personal property. Unless given permission, do not move, play with, or use them.
Remember that people with disabilities are interested in the same topics of conversation as people without disabilities.
Place yourself at eye level of a person using a wheelchair when talking to him/her for any length of time. This is to avoid stiff neck and ‘talking down’ to the individual.
Be patient when you are listening to people with disabilities. Allow the people with disabilities to finish speaking. Do not attempt to correct or to speak for the people with disabilities. If required, ask questions that prompt short answers or the nod or shake of head.
Do not pretend you understand what is being said if you do not. Instead, repeat what you have understood and allow the people with disabilities to respond.
Use a normal speaking tone and style. If someone needs you to speak in a louder voice, they will ask you to do so.
When planning events involving people with disabilities, consider their needs ahead of time. Inform them of the potential barriers ahead of the events.
Address people with disabilities by their names.
During Emergency Evacuation
Evacuation of people with disabilities will be given high priority in all emergencies.
Stay calm and offer assistance but let the people with disabilities explain what help is needed before attempting any rescue technique.
Help the people with disabilities to a comfortable and safe position.
Do not leave the people with disabilities unattended at any time.
Do not carry a people with disabilities except in the most extreme of circumstances.
If you and/or others cannot safely carry a person up/down stairs, do not insist. Instead, position the person in the safest place possible according to the emergency and alert emergency personnel of the person’s location.
PACER Center, Inc. (2004). Basic Disability Etiquette Tips. Retrieved October 4, 2013, from http://www.pacer.org/parent/php/PHP-c127.pdf
United Cerebral Palsy. (2013). Disability Etiquettte. Retrieved October 4, 2013, from http://ucp.org/resources/disability-etiquette/
University of California. (2001). University of California, Berkeley Evacuation Policy for People with Disabilities. Retrieved October 7, 2013. http://oep.berkeley.edu/emergencies/disabled_people/documents/EvacPolDisab.pdf