Guidelines and Courtesies for interacting with persons with disabilities

St. Haralambos


Let today become a beginning of a constant effort to offer inclusion, not rejection to persons who often do not feel they can be included in our worship, activities and the fullness of life in our Holy Church. In this spirit, we offer these Guidelines and Courtesies for interacting with persons with disabilities:

When talking to a person with a disability, speak directly to him or her rather than through a companion or sign language interpreter. Don’t assume that a person accompanying someone in a wheelchair is an attendant; they may be a friend or partner.

 If you would normally shake hands with people you meet, offer your hand to someone with a disability as well. If they are unable to shake your hand, they will tell you.

 Be considerate of the extra time it might take a person with a disability to get things done or said. Let the person set the pace in walking and talking.

 When talking with a person who speaks slowly or with great effort, never pretend to understand if you are having trouble doing so. Ask them to repeat what you did not understand or ask if writing notes would be okay.

 Leaning on a person’s wheelchair is similar to leaning or hanging on a person. The wheelchair is part of the individual’s personal space. If conversing for more than a few minutes, place yourself at their eye level to spare both of you a stiff neck.

 When speaking with a person who is blind or has low vision, always remember to identify yourself; introduce others with you and indicate when you move from one place to another and when the conversation is at an end.

 It is alright to offer assistance, but wait until your offer is accepted before you help. Do not feel obligated to act as caregiver. And do not feel offended if the person declines your offer.

 When offering to guide a person who is blind or has low vision, allow that person to take your arm. This will enable them to easily follow your lead, even up or down curbs or stairs.

 Use specific directions/distances, such as ―left/ 3 steps away.‖ You can also use clock position when directing a person: for example, the drinking fountain is at 1 o’clock.

 Service animals are working and should not be touched, petted or played with unless you have permission form their owner. It is better to not even ask.  Always face a person who is deaf or hard of hearing and when in doubt, ask if it would be alright to write it out. Speaking loudly does not mean you will be heard.

 When planning events which involve people with disabilities, be aware of their needs (accessible rest-room, level entries, Braille signage, etc.) in choosing locations and modes of transportation.

 If you are ever unsure about what to say or do, just ask. More often than not, a person with a disability will be happy to let you know what they prefer.

Do not refer to a person’s disability unless it is relevant.

 Most people with disabilities prefer ―person-first‖ terminology, such as ―person who is blind‖ or ―people with disabilities‖ since this acknowledges them as people first, rather than their disability first.

 Avoid referring to groups of people by their condition or disability such as ―the blind,‖ ―the deaf,‖ etc.

 Avoid sensational descriptive words when referring to a person’s disability, such as ―suffers from,‖ is a victim of,‖ ―is afflicted with.‖

 Use ―disabled,‖ ―disability‖ or ―accessible‖ rather than ―handicapped.‖

 Avoid condescending euphemisms such as ―differently abled,‖ ―physically challenged‖ ―mentally different,‖ or ―handicapped.‖

 Avoid portraying people with disabilities as overly courageous, brave or special. This implies that it is unusual for people with disabilities to be independent or competent.

 Never say anything that you would not want said to or about yourself.

Basic Guidelines for using words and phrases that are more appropriate when talking with or about people with disabilities

DO SAY                                                                                                                                                 
person with a disability,
or has a disability,
people with disabilities    
the disabled, handicapped,
crippled, people, invalid,
sick, deformed or gimp
uses wheelchair,
uses assistive device,  
uses crutches, uses walker, etc.          
wheelchair bound,
confined to a wheelchair
birth irregularity,
congenital disability          
birth defect, birth affliction
or deformed birth injury
person with a physical disability
crippled, lame, deformed
person who is deaf,
hard of hearing
the deaf, hearing impaired,
deaf, mute
has a speech disability,
unable to speak
has a speech defect
person who is blind,
has low vision
the blind, blind people,
visually impaired
person with an intellectual,
cognitive, disability
stupid, retarded, slow, birth defect,
mentally deficient,
mentally challenged
person with epilepsy,
seizure disorder
epileptic, has fits, spastic
person with psychiatric disability
crazy, nuts
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