May 2017

I often find myself wondering what is the best way to interact with special people.  After all, I interact with those special people all the time - Am I doing a good job?  Though social etiquette is something I take for granted as I interact with other parents, colleagues, the teller at the bank or the clerk in the store, I pondered if I should treat someone with a disability the same way as I would someone who does not appear to have an obvious disability.  

I looked into this topic and, of course, the general rule of thumb is to treat someone with a disability the same as you would any other person.  People with a disability deserve and should expect the same level of courtesy and respect that we afford anyone else.  However, engaging with people who have a disability sometimes requires us to exercise even more tact and sensitivity.  Below are some guidelines that I found helpful.

  • When talking with someone who has a disability, speak directly to him or her whether or not you think they can comprehend your words.  Let the person guide your interaction as opposed to the other way around.
  • Offer your hand for a handshake.  People whose limbs may be shaky can still shake hands in some fashion or the other.
  • Kindly offer assistance when appropriate but wait until it is accepted.  Be receptive to instructions provided by the person.
  • Leaning or hanging onto someone’s wheelchair or walker can be perceived as encroaching on their space.  Instead, stand in front of the person and maintain good eye contact when you are speaking to them.
  • When interacting with someone who has difficulty speaking, be patient and wait for the person to finish. Avoid finishing the sentence for the person.  Try repeating what they told you to make sure you understood.  You can ask short questions that require a nod in response.  Most importantly though don’t pretend to understand when you haven’t.  Instead use the above strategies to gain a better understanding of what the person is trying to communicate.
  • Mostly though, relax!  People who have a disability want nothing more than to be like everyone else.  So treat them with the same courtesy as you would anyone else.