Man in wheelchair plays with son.

disability etiquette

Picture of a man using wheelchair.

Here are some handy guidlines to follow when meeting people with disabilities. These pointers are also included in the Game 4A Game book, serving as a helpful point of reference.

Meeting People With Mobility Difficulties

Do not lean on a person's wheelchair – this is part of his/her personal body space.

Do not touch or move a person's mobility aid (e.g. a stick or crutches) without his/her consent.

When talking to a wheelchair user, try to position yourself at his/her level, ideally on a chair. It is best to avoid crouching down, as standing or crouching can sometimes be interpreted as patronising.

Do not grab the back of someone's wheelchair and push him/her along. Most wheelchair users like to get around under their own power but, if there is an obstacle (e.g. a step), ask the person if s/he would like some assistance.

If you are going to meet a person who uses a wheelchair, check the following:

Remember, not all people with mobility difficulties use a wheelchair or other walking aid. In some cases, the difficulty may not become evident until s/he tries to do a certain thing, e.g. climb stairs or walk more than a short distance. In other cases, balance may be a factor.

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Meeting People Who Are Visually Impaired

Visually Impaired lady walking in the park.

Introduce yourself clearly and introduce all others present, giving their relative position to you.

When offering assistance to someone who is visually impaired, ask him/her exactly what s/he wants you to do. Allow the person to take your arm. Guide, rather than lead, the person and do not automatically assume that s/he needs your assistance.

When offering the person a seat, place his/her hand on the back or arm of the chair, saying what you have done.

In a group conversation, get people to say their names. This helps the visually impaired person know where everyone is positioned. From there on, refer to each person by his/her name.

Never leave someone talking to an empty space! Say when you have ended a conversation or are going to move away.

When bringing a visually impaired person into an unfamiliar room, give a brief description of its 'geography' (size, shape, etc) and contents (tables, chairs, other furniture, etc).

Always leave doors either fully opened or closed.

If you are dealing with documents / written texts and there are no Braille versions available, ask the person if s/he would like you to read it.

Find out if there are audio versions of texts / information.

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Meeting Someone Who Is Partially-Sighted

Inform the person of potential hazards that s/he may not see (e.g. steps, items of furniture, etc).

Use a room that is well lit.

Position yourself close enough for the person to see you, but without intruding on his/ her space.

If you are using forms / documents with small print or lots of details, ask the person if s/ he would like you to have the text enlarged.

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Meeting People Who Are Hearing Impaired

Find out which type of communication the person wants to use, e.g. through a companion who signs or by lip-reading. If you have difficulty at any stage, use written notes.

When you meet with someone who can lip read, remember that only three out of ten words are visible on the lips. So remember to speak slowly, clearly and directly to those you are talking with.

If a sign language interpreter is working with someone, always face and talk to the person, not the interpreter.

When meeting someone with a hearing impairment, speak slowly and audibly, but do not shout.

To attract a deaf person's attention, tap him/her on the shoulder. Do not shout.

If you are with a deaf person and the phone rings or someone arrives at the door, excuse yourself and tell your client what you are doing.

Facial expressions and gestures help hearing impaired people understand you.

Position yourself in the light and keep hands or objects away from your mouth when speaking.

In a group conversation, let the hearing impaired person know what topic is being discussed so that s/he can contribute and not feel left out.

When meeting someone who can lip read:

Remember, hearing aids amplify all sound, so keep excess noise to a minimum.

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