National Council on Disability Document Archive

Interacting with PWD--Etiquette Handbook

Posted by: Jamal Mazrui
Date Mailed: Friday, July 18th 1997 06:12 PM


An Etiquette Handbook

Interacting with People with Disabilities

A Self Analysis

True or False

1. ____   Using a wheelchair means the end of a fulfilling life.

2. ____   Slow speech is a sign of a slowed mental process.

3. ____   Having a vision disability means you are unable to give

4. ____   People with disabilities are usually in need of, or
want, assistance.

5. ____   Most people who are deaf read lips.

6. ____   Being blind means a person lives in total darkness.

7. ____   Hearing impaired and hard of hearing are the same

8. ____   Having a mobility disability does not mean that you
have otherdisabilities.

9. ____   Deaf people can have excellent speech.

10. ____  Most deaf people cannot make sound with their voice.

11. ____  Having a vision disability gives someone super-hearing,
super-touchor super-smell.

12. ____  Having slow speech does not mean you can't or don't
want to talkfor yourself.

13. ____  Finger spelling is a form of Sign Language.

14. ____  People paralyzed from the waist down cannot have

15. ____  People with communication disabilities may be mistaken
for aperson who is drunk.

Table of Contents

A Self Analysis





The Basics                                                       

People with Mobility Disabilities                               

People with Hearing Disabilities                                

People with Vision Disabilities                                 

People with Communication Disabilities                          

People with Learning Disabilities                               

People with Mental (Psychiatric) Disabilities                   

People with Epilepsy                                            

People with Other Disabilities                                  


Why write an etiquette handbook on interacting with people with

Because people with disabilities still encounter situations like

Last Saturday, Bob and Susan had planned to enjoy a long and well
deserved evening out on the town.  They had many things to
celebrate.  Susan had recently been promoted to a full partner at
her marketing firm.  Bob had just completed three weeks of
training for a new position as a service manager.  But the icing
on the cake was the five-month, 23-day and four-hour anniversary
of the birth of their daughter, Michelle.  Tonight Michelle was
with grandma, and this was their first evening out together in
nearly six months. 

The new Italian restaurant they selected had a warm and charming
old world decor and the food smelled heavenly.  The evening was
perfect, that is, until the waiter arrived. Susan's heart sank
when she felt the waiter tense up and focus all of his attention
on Bob.  She became uneasy when she realized ordering dinner
might become another unpleasant and potentially demeaning

"Yes sir, what can I get you this evening?" asked the waiter.

"What would you like, Susan?" Bob asked.  

"So far, so good." Susan thoughtfully assured herself. "I'll have
the three-pasta salad and the lasagna."

"I'm sorry sir, we are out of the lasagna; she'll have to order
something else."  The waiter was talking to Bob.

The alarms went off in her mind, "Here we go again!"  Susan began
to dread what she knew would follow.  "Excuse me!" she said.  "I
would appreciate it if you would talk to me about my order."  

She congratulated herself on speaking in a cool, even tone.  This
was the third such encounter this week.  She did not appreciate
continually having to defend her right to be treated with dignity
and respect; especially when she was a paying customer.

speech was deliberately loud and slow.  He stretched out each
word as he spoke it.  

"Yes, a new waiter!"  She was not happy with the waiter's
response.  "I would like to see your manager.  Now."

Susan thought to herself, "It's the 90's!  Why do I still have to
deal with people like this?"

The waiter looked surprised and confused.  He gave a short nod
and hurried over to the serving station to find his supervisor.

"Thank you for letting me handle this, Bob.  I know you'd like to
jump in and defend me.  But you know, that might only reinforce
the idea that I can't or shouldn't speak for myself."
"I'm sorry this happened tonight, Sue, but you're doing great."

The waiter now returned to the table, followed by someone dressed
in a dark suit.

"Is there something I can help you with?"  His pocket pin
identified him as "K. Samson."

Once again, Susan found herself having to assert her right to be
treated with the dignity every customer is entitled to.  "Are you
the manager?" 


"Is it the policy of your restaurant to treat your customers with

"No mam."

"When I ordered my dinner, why did your waiter tell my friend
that I would have to order something else?  Why didn't he talk to
me, directly?"

"I am sorry you were inconvenienced.  I will be sure to talk to
him about this."  

"The next time your waiter, or any waiter, waits on a customer,
make sure they talk directly with the person who is ordering.  It
is common courtesy."

"I apologize for the situation.  How can we serve you this

The previous scenario was based on a real event that happened
when a couple I know went out for a nice, quiet dinner.  The
names and place were altered, but the situation was real.  

In this example, Susan had a disability.  It doesn't matter what
kind of disability she had.  Customers are customers.  They all
deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect.

Many people and many hours were involved in the production of the
final version of this manual. The entire staff of the Region VI
Rehabilitation Continuing Education Program through the
leadership of Phil Stinebuck, Training Coordinator, compiled,
revised, and edited this work. We gratefully acknowledge the
contributions of Burt Pusch and Danielle Strickman.


Through an increased understanding of disability we gain a
greater awareness of the impact of attitudinal and environmental
barriers in preventing people with disabilities from fully
participating in society. This is the overriding purpose for
which this manual was written. We must first understand
disability to understand the obstacles facing individuals with
disabilities in participating as full citizens in this country.
Only then can we address the barriers in the environment and what
put those barriers in the environment_Ourselves!! Our individual
attitudes collectively have resulted in an indifferent and
inaccessible society. Therefore, we must remove the attitudinal
barriers to assure equal access to, and full participation in

For this reason, the University of Arkansas authorizes the use of
this manual, it's reprint, and dissemination where appropriate to
help achieve this purpose.



There have been many efforts to try to increase the awareness of
the general public regarding the abilities and strengths of
persons with disabilities.

The average person may have few opportunities to get to know a
person with a disability. He/she may have had a family member or
a friend with a disability, but usually their experiences are
limited to one or two people.

Also, many people haven't had an opportunity to get to know
people with different types of disabilities in a variety of
settings: such as doctors, lawyers, business owners, customers,
employees, or neighbors.

Consequently, most people have only a modest idea of how to
interact with persons with disabilities.  Educating the public on
who people with disabilities are, and what they can do, hasn't
been a very high priority.  Available information is often
sketchy or based on misinformation which comes from traditional,
often outdated, beliefs about people with disabilities.

"Interacting with People with Disabilities: An Etiquette
Hand-book" was put together in order to promote a better
understanding of the abilities of people with disabilities and to
offer some helpful advice in terms of communicating and
interacting with people with disabilities.

The handbook is designed to do three things:

     1.   Eliminate Myths

          Various myths about people with disabilities will be
explored and demythed.  New ideas about how people with
disabilities wish to be perceived will be presented.

     2.   Provide Communication and Etiquette

          The booklet will introduce some basic etiquette and
communication principles for interacting with persons with

     3.   Reduce Attitudinal Barriers

          An attitudinal barrier is a way of thinking or feeling
which results in behavior that limits the potential of people
with disabilities from being independent or full participants in

While this book offers general guidelines on interacting with
persons with disabilities, it is not at all inclusive.  Every
person has his or her own preferences in terms of how they want
to be treated and what they would like to be called.  So the best
advice may be, "When in doubt, ask."
An Etiquette Handbook
The Basics

The following basic ideas should be kept in mind when interacting
with all persons with disabilities, regardless of the disability.

People with Disabilities are People

     A basic idea promoted throughout this booklet is that people
with disabilities are just that, people.  They have the same
desire to participate in, and contribute to their communities as
everyone else.  They also have the same desire as everyone else
to be treated with dignity and respect.

People with Disabilities are Whole People

     People with disabilities are whole people.  Having a
disability is only one aspect of a person's life.  There are many
more parts to a person's life than simply having a disability. 
For example, someone may be an artist, father, employer, friend
and also be a person with a disability.

Having a Disability, Doesn't Mean a Person is Disabled

     Having a physical difference doesn't automatically make a
person disabled.  Many factors come into play:  attitudes, the
percentage of the population with the same physical difference,
and environmental accommodations are just a few.

     For example, most people who wear glasses don't think of
themselves as being visually disabled.  Yet, eyeglasses and
contact lenses are corrections for a vision disability.  With
this special accommodation, people are able to work, play, and
live in their communities.

     In our society, wearing eyeglasses or contacts has become so
acceptable that we don't think of it as an accommodation for a
physical limitation.

Everyone Uses Technology To Do What Their Bodies Cannot

     A thousand years ago, we used horses and oxen to compensate
for the inability of our legs to travel great distances in a safe
and timely manner.  Hundreds of years later, we designed devices
that moved us faster, further, and more comfortably.  Today, we
matter-of-factly use technology to change our environment to
accomplish what our bodies cannot.  In fact, our feet cannot
carry us in the same amount of time, or with the same amount of
comfort as planes, cars, and even shoes can.

     We are so used to the idea of controlling the world around
us that we forget just how dependent we are on the devices we've
created.  For example:
     1.   Transportation  

               Planes. We are able to travel from coast to coast
in about four hours.  Several centuries ago, the same trip would
have taken a lifetime by foot.

               Cars.  We can jump on a bus or in a car and go 55
miles in just one hour.

               Shoes.  We have even built foot coverings (shoes)
which not only protect our feet, but enable us to jump higher and
run faster.

     2.   Communication

               Speech.  Without help our voices will carry only a
few yards.  With a phone we can talk to someone hundreds or
thousands of miles away.

               Hearing.  Our ears have a limited listening range. 
Yet with a phone or radio we listen to information and
entertainment from nearly everywhere in the world.

               Sight.  With television we can see well beyond the
limits of our eyes.  We can see realtime events and pictures from
all over the world.  Eyeglasses and contact lenses help us to see
when our vision isn't 20/20.

     People with disabilities use technology for the same
reasons, but in different ways.  For example:

          1.   Transportation:     A wheelchair, or other
mobility device, is a form oftransportation.

          2.   Communication: A TDD (Telecommunication Device for
the Deaf) orTT (Text Telephone) is a way to communicate by
phone.Braille is a system for reading and writing.

Word Power

     Words are very powerful.  They are like the paint an artist
uses to express their impressions of the world around them.  We
use words in the same way.  With words, we paint the limits and
possibilities of our reality.

     Perhaps the language we use is the most telling example of
how we perceive the value of people with disabilities in our

     To find out how powerful words can be for defining the
potentials or limitations of persons with disabilities, try this

          1.   Read the following words out loud.

               - cripple      - handicapped       - deaf and dumb
               - blind             - victim                 -
               These are considered BAD words.  They focus
attention on the disability, not the person.  They encourage
ideas of pity and helplessness.  They suggest that the person has
no value or dignity as a whole human being. 

          2.   Now, read these words out loud.

               - person with a disability
               - person with a vision disability
               - person who is deaf

               These are considered GOOD words.  They express the
personhood of the individual.  They make us realize that having a
disability is just a part of a person's life.

               3.   Close your eyes and say the words again to
yourself.  Then compare thetypes of images and feelings the
different words create.
               a.   What type of impressions and feelings did the
words "cripple," "deaf and dumb," or "victim" leave?  Images of
helplessness, pity, or hopelessness?

               b.   What type of impressions and feelings did the
words "person with a disability," "person with a vision
disability," or "person who is deaf" leave?  Images of a partial
or specific disability, more wholeness, or ability?

     Try one more exercise.

          1.   Read the following terms out loud.

               Bad Words:      -  "palsy"              ...
                                   -  "sightless"           ...
                                   -  "deaf and dumb"  ...
                                   -  "disabled"            ...

          2.   Now read these words out loud.

               Good Words:    - "A person with"   ... cerebral
                                   - "A person with"   ... a
vision disability.
                                   - "A person with"   ... a
hearing disability.
                                   - "A person with"   ... a

          3.   Close your eyes and say the words to yourself. 
Now compare the types ofimages and feelings these words create.

               a.   What type of impressions and feelings did the
term "disabled person" leave?  Images of weakness, sadness, or
total incapacity?  
               b.   What type of impressions and feelings did the
term "person with a disability" leave?  Images of ownership,
strength, or ability?

          4.   Now exchange the term "person" for a role; i.e.,
mother, father, boss,employee, playmate, friend, etc., and do
this second exercise over again.Listen to the whole message the
words convey.

     Words are very powerful.  They reinforce our ideas of who we
are and who and what we expect we can be.  Avoid using words
which suggest helplessness or infirmity, such as:  crippled,
victim, handicapped, disabled or invalid.  (This last word
actually comes from the phrase "in-valid.")

     Since having a disability is a part of the lives of people
with disabilities, generally speaking, it is not a good idea to
totally drop any reference to the disability.  However, it is
healthy to try to put the disability into the context of the
whole person.  

     There are always exceptions to every rule.  Generally
speaking, when you are describing a person with a disability, we
should use words that emphasize the personhood, wholeness, and
abilities of the person.  Such as:

          - "person with cerebral palsy"
          - "person with a vision disability"
          - "person with a hearing disability"
          - "person with a disability"

     However, when a term has gained intrinsic strength among a
large group of persons with a specific disability, the personhood
rule may be suspended in favor of political or cultural

     For example:  "The Deaf" 

     This term is considered culturally appropriate and is
preferred over the terms "persons who are deaf" or "persons with
hearing disabilities" by international organizations of people
who are deaf.
The Two Golden Rules of Etiquette.

     The following two basic rules of etiquette should be used
when interacting with persons with disabilities, regardless of
the disability.

Rule 1:  Talk directly to the person

     If you have a question to ask or a comment to make, be sure
that your communication is directed towards the person for whom
it is intended.  Speak to a person with a disability as you would
to anyone else, concentrating on the purpose or reason you are
communicating.  Direct your communication to the person with a
disability, even if they use a speech device or an interpreter to
communicate to you.

     A common mistake is to talk to anyone other than the person
with a disability.  It is very rude, impolite, and inappropriate
to turn to someone else and ask, "What does s/he want?"  Talk
directly to the person with the disability.  DO NOT address any
questions regarding the interests or needs of the person with a
disability to anyone except the person with the disability.    

Rule 2:  When in doubt, ASK

     If you're not sure how a person communicates, or what they
want, the best thing to do is ask.  If talking to a person with a
disability makes you uncomfortable, take your time, be polite,
and let the person know that this is a new situation for you.

Remember Rule 1:  Speak directly to the person with the

Offering Assistance

     Here are some helpful pointers to keep in mind when you are
trying to decide whether or not to provide assistance.

     1.   It is okay to offer assistance

          Like everyone, there are times when a person with a
disability wants assistance and there are times when they don't. 
Everyone appreciates some assistance now and then.  And most
people, including people with disabilities, like to assist
someone once in a while.

          While it is appropriate to offer assistance, it is not
appropriate to spontaneously provide assistance.  Doing so
assumes that the person with a disability needs or wants it. 
Never assume someone needs or wants your assistance.

                Remember Rule 2:  When in doubt ASK
               2.Ask before providing assistance

                    When you don't want or need assistance, the
last thing you want is someone  "helping" you.  Before assisting
a person with a disability, ask them whether or not they would
like assistance.  They may say "yes" or "no."  The important
thing is to let the person with the disability make the decision. 

               3.Clarify what type of assistance is desired.

                    Everyone has their own way of doing things. 
Some ways work better than others.  Before assisting a person
with a disability, ask them how you can best assist.  Let them
tell you how they would like to be assisted.

          These basic ideas apply to interacting with persons
with all kinds of disabilities, whether they are people with
mobility disabilities, people with hearing disabilities, people
with vision disabilities, people with communication disabilities,
people with mental disabilities, substance abuse, or other health
conditions such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, cancer,
An Etiquette Handbook
                 People with Mobility Disabilities

Just the Facts

     1.   Signs, signs, everywhere are signs

                    Almost everywhere you go now-a-days you can
see the international symbol of accessibility (the white
wheelchair figure on a blue background).  You see it in parking
areas, restrooms, and on the front of buildings.  However,
increased awareness doesn't necessarily result in increased
accessibility.  These signs can be very misleading.  

                    While a few genuinely accessible facilities
do exist, a majority of facilities and services identified with
an "accessible" symbol are not.  The white and blue symbol of
accessibility doesn't assure that facilities actually are

                    For example:

          "Handicapped Parking"

                    Many "handicapped" parking spaces are
inaccessible.  While they may be reserved for persons with
disabilities, their size or location can actually impair a
person's ability to get in and out of their car.  

                    Accessible parking spaces are supposed to be
13 feet wide.  The additional width is necessary to get a car
door open wide enough to get in and out of the car or to use an
electric lift for getting in and out of a van.  

                    When was the last time you saw a
"handicapped" parking space that was a minimum of 13 feet wide?

          "Access Ramps"

                    Ramps are supposed to have a slope no greater
than 1 inch of height for every 12 inches of length.  Not all
ramps meet this requirement and therefore are not accessible. 
When a ramp with a slope steeper than the 1- to 12-inch
requirement is referred to as "accessible," it is very misleading
and can be potentially dangerous.

     2.   My Chair, My Body

                    A wheelchair or a walker may look like just
another piece of equipment.  However, people who use a
wheelchair, walker, or cane often consider this technology as an
extension of their body.  

                    Wheelchairs are NOT footstools, stepladders,
or fire hazards.  They are part of a person's person and should
be treated with the same dignity and respect.

                    Touching or handling someone's wheelchair or
other mobility tool may be seen as the same as touching or
handling the person's body and may be considered inappropriate
without the permission of the individual.  

Myth Blasting

                   The international symbol of accessibility
does not assure that a building or activity is accessible.

                   Touching or handling a person's wheelchair,
walker, or other mobility device can be the same as touching
their body.

                   People with paralysis can and do have

                   Having a mobility disability does NOT mean
that you have other disabilities.

                   Using a wheelchair or other mobility device
does NOT constitute an inability to achieve a fulfilling life and
a satisfying lifestyle. 


          1.   Talk face to face

               Be sure to face a person with a disability when
talking to them.  Carrying on a conversation with someone from
behind, especially if you're standing over them, isn't very
respectful of their dignity.

               2.Look me in the eye when you say that

                    Quite often people who use wheelchairs have
to look up at the person who is talking to them.  This puts a
strain on the person who is forced to look up at the person
talking.  This may also communicate an unequal status.  Try to
establish level eye contact by getting a chair and sitting down.

               3.Empathetic mumbo-jumbo

                    Don't feel compelled to communicate your
empathic impressions of what it must be like to use a wheelchair. 

                    Having had a temporary disability, or having
known a relative who used a wheelchair, may give you an
experience with using a wheelchair or knowing someone who did;
however, it does not tell you about someone else's experience. 
Each person's experience is different.  There are people who
would say being in a wheelchair is the best thing that ever
happened to them.  There are other people who wouldn't agree.  

                    If you're trying to bridge any social
distance you might feel, talk about something that you both have
in common like work, recreation, sports, etc.


          Words are very powerful.  Think about these typical
"Confined to a    wheelchair" 

This author doesn't know of anyone who is absolutely, totally
confined to a wheelchair by ropes, chains or a court order.

"Wheelchair bound"

When the author hears this term, he is reminded of an image where
a person is crawling towards their chair singing "Hi, ho, hi, ho
it's off to chair I go...." 

"Wheelchair Person"

When the author hears this term, he thinks of a wheelchair which
has eyes, ears, a nose and a mouth.  This term will dehumanize
the person.

Use words that promote the personhood and abilities of the
individual rather than a device they use or a physical limitation
they have.  For example:

               "A person with a mobility disability"
                              - or - 
                   "A person with a disability"
An Etiquette Handbook
                 People with Hearing Disabilities

Just the Facts

               1."Hearing disability," "hard of hearing," and
"deaf" mean different things

                    Most people think that "hearing disability,"
"hard of hearing," and "deaf" refer to the same thing.  They
don't.  The term "hearing disability" refers to persons who are
hard of hearing AND persons who are deaf.  

                    Persons who are deaf and persons who are hard
of hearing feel it is important to be recognized for their
distinctive differences.  An agreement between the World
Federation of the Deaf and the International Federation of the
Hard of Hearing has defined the difference between "deaf" and
"hard of hearing."  The distinction is that "deaf people seek to
utilize their vision skills for communicating while hard of
hearing persons seek ways to retain their listening and speaking
skills.  Therefore, their concerns, needs, and emphases are

                    The range of hearing disabilities, like other
disabilities, is composed of a variety of types and degrees.  A
person who is hard of hearing may hear only specific pitches,
high or low, or a specific range of tones in between.  (Think of
the octaves on a piano.)  Hard of hearing may also refer to
volume.  Persons who are hard of hearing may only hear loud

                    People who have some hearing may choose to
rely more on speech for communicating.  People who are deaf may
choose to rely on Sign Language for communication.  It is
important to understand that a hearing loss may affect people

     2.   All hard of hearing and deaf people do not read lips

                    One of the greatest fallacies regarding
persons who are hard of hearing or deaf is that they speech read
lips very well.  Research indicates that less than thirty percent
of spoken English sounds are visible, and that fifty percent of
English sounds look like another sound on the lips.

     3.   Most deaf people have some vocal capacity

                    Another myth about deaf people is they can't
vocalize.  Most deaf people have normal vocal organs and can
vocalize.  However, because of cultural issues, a lack of
auditory cues, role models, or training, deaf people may choose
not to vocalize.
               4.Communication used by deaf people

                    Deaf people use a variety of ways to
communicate.  They may choose to speak, speech read, write, or
use a variety of "signed communication."  Signed communication is
a term referring to the use of fingerspelling (manually spelling
letters with your fingers), American Sign Language, or a variety
of signed English systems. These have different grammatical
structures and may be mixed together.  

                    American Sign Language (ASL) is the
definitive language of the deaf culture and is used by many deaf
people throughout the United States and parts of Canada.  Like
all natural languages, ASL has its own rules for grammar and
conversational structures to convey information and ideas.

Myth Blasting

         Hard of hearing does not mean deaf.

         All people who are deaf or hard of hearing can NOT read

         Most deaf people have normal vocal organs and can

         Some deaf people DO have excellent speech.

         Finger spelling is NOT the same as Sign Language.
                   Many deaf or hard of hearing enjoy music,
theater, and movies.

                   Being deaf or hard of hearing does NOT mean
that you have other disabilities.

                   Being deaf or hard of hearing does NOT
constitute an inability to achieve a fulfilling life and a
satisfying lifestyle. 


     1.   Communicating with a TDD or TT

                    "TDD" stands for "Telecommunication Device
for the Deaf" and may also be referred to as a "TT" for "Text
Telephone."  Either term is acceptable and refers to a small
compact device that looks like a small typewriter keyboard with
an LED screen.  You type messages using the keyboard and read
messages from the screen.  
                    When typing your message on the TDD, make
your communication clear, simple, and concise.  When reading
messages, be aware that abbreviations and ASL grammar may make
the translation take a little longer.  Try to focus on the whole
message being conveyed, rather than trying to figure out
individual words or phrases.

                    You need to know the abbreviations GA, Q and
SK when communicating via a TDD.  Type "GA" (go ahead) when you
want the other person to start typing.  When you read "GA," it is
your turn to type.  When you ask a question, type "Q" instead of
a question mark.  Type "SK" when you want to conclude your
conversation.  When you read "SK," type "SKSK" if you are
completely finished talking.  When both you and the person you
are talking to have typed "SK," your conversation has ended and
you can hang-up your phone and turn off your TDD.

                    If you work or live in a place that has
telephones and TDDs and you answer a ringing phone and hear a
beeping sound or silence, DON'T hang-up, it may be a TDD call. 
If you know how to use a TDD, answer the call.  If you don't know
how to use a TDD, find someone who can answer the call, or use a
telephone relay system.  Just DON'T hang-up.

                    Don't type your message while the other
person is typing their message.  Only one person at a time can
type and send their message via a TDD over the phone.   

     2.   Using an interpreter

                    Always, always address your comments,
questions, and concerns directly to the deaf person to whom you
are talking.  Even if you are using an interpreter, speak
directly to the person with the hearing disability.  Treat the
interpreter as a foreign language translator; that's their role,
nothing more.

                    Never talk to the interpreter or solicit
information about the deaf person from the interpreter.  Look at
and communicate directly to the deaf person.  The interpreter's
job is to translate language, not interpret, mediate, or

                    For example, do NOT speak to the interpreter
and say, "Ask him where he would like to sit."  Instead, speak
directly to the person you are talking to and say, "Mr. Johnson,
where would you like to sit?" 

                    Always use a qualified interpreter.  Never
use someone who knows "a little" sign language.  Using someone
who knows a little sign language is like using a foreign language
interpreter who knows just a little English.    


          Never use the word "dumb" to denote a person who is
hard of hearing or deaf.  Use words which appropriately describe
the person's abilities, such as, "a person who is hard of

          Remember that "the deaf" or "deaf person" is an
exception to this rule.   The terms "the deaf" or "deaf person"
are preferred by national organizations of persons who are deaf.
An Etiquette Handbook
                  People with Vision Disabilities

Just the Facts

               1.Blind doesn't mean blind

                    One of the most common myths about persons
with vision disabilities is that they live in a world of total
darkness.  The range of vision disabilities, like other
disabilities, is varied.  For example, some people have
peripheral vision while others have central vision.  Some people
have clouded vision while others may have multiple vision.  Some
people have a combination of many types of vision.

                    The concept of darkness is not relevant to
most persons with vision disabilities.  Someone who has no vision
at all may not "see" any darkness.

     2.   SUPERSENSES is super-senseless

                    Having a vision disability does not give
someone super-hearing, super-smell, super-taste, or super-touch. 
Persons with vision disabilities may learn to pay more attention
to their other senses.  However, paying closer attention to other
senses is learned.  The other senses do not "become" super

                    The senses of a person with a vision
disability are not naturally heightened as a result of their
vision disability.  

               3.Persons with vision disabilities have strengths
and weaknesses like everyone else 

                    People who are blind or have a vision
disability may have a very good sense of their location and
direction as they are traveling.  Having a vision disability
doesn't automatically mean that someone needs assistance.  Some
people who are blind are very good navigators in familiar
surroundings where they live, work, and play.  Other people who
are blind may not have developed these skills.  Like everyone
else, persons with disabilities will vary in their interests,
skills, and abilities.

Myth Blasting

                   Having a vision disability does NOT mean a
person lives in total darkness.

                   Having a vision disability does not GIVE
someone super-hearing, super-smell, super-taste, or super-touch.

                   Having a vision disability does NOT mean you
do not know where you are or where you want to go.
                   Having a vision disability, or being blind,
does NOT mean that you have other disabilities.

                   Having a vision disability does NOT
constitute an inability to achieve a fulfilling life and a
satisfying lifestyle. 

               1.Memory games are rude

                    Always identify yourself verbally when
addressing a person with a vision disability.  Most people with
vision disabilities find it very rude and impolite to have
someone come up to them and say, "Do you remember my voice?"

     2.   Communication

                    For some reason persons with vision
disabilities are often shouted at.  (Interestingly, this behavior
contradicts the myth of super-hearing.)  Use your normal tone of
voice; don't shout.

                    It is okay to use vision references such as
"see" or "look."


                    It is considered polite to indicate your
position with a light tap on the shoulder or hand (as in the case
of a handshake or when offering mobility assistance).  However,
keep your physical contact reserved.  

                    It is very important to identify yourself
when you approach a person with a vision disability and to tell
them when you are leaving the conversation or area.

     4.   Assistance

                    For mobility assistance, the best practice is
to offer your elbow and allow the person with the vision
disability to direct you when assisting him/her with their
mobility.  Don't push, don't propel, or grab the person or any
part of their body and attempt to lead them; groping is quite

     5.   Service animals

                    A guide dog, like all service animals, should
never be petted or talked to without the permission of its owner. 
Guide dogs, when in harness, are working and should not be

Avoid cliches' where "blind" is used to mean "stupid," such as:

          - The blind leading the blind.
          - What are you ... blind?
          - I'm not "blind" you know.

Use words which convey the abilities and wholeness of the person.

          - Person with a vision disability.
          - Person who is blind.
An Etiquette Handbook
              People with Communication Disabilities

Just the Facts

          Speech disabilities range from problems with
articulation, or voice strength, to complete voicelessness.  They
include difficulties in projection, as in chronic hoarseness and
esophageal speech; fluency problems, as in stuttering and
stammering; and the nominal aphasia that alters the articulation
of particular words or terms.

               1.I can speak for myself

                    Having a communication disability does not
mean that a person does not desire to speak for himself.  Most
persons with communication disabilities do wish to speak for
themselves.  However, more often than not, other people feel
compelled to try to speak for them.  In most cases, "normal"
people do not give the person with the communication disability
the time they need to speak for themselves.  

               2.Not having clear speech does not mean I'm stupid

                    If a person has difficulty communicating
verbally it does not mean that he is not capable of thinking for
himself.  Having difficulty speaking does not mean a person is
     3.   Avoidance is the number one response

                    The number one issue that people with
communication disabilities have regarding communicating with
other people is patience.  Generally speaking, most people aren't
willing to give people with communication disabilities the time
they need to send their message.  It seems that most people
exercise avoidance or impatience when interacting with a person
with a communication disability.

     4.   Telephone Avoidance

                    Communicating to another person on the
telephone can be a nightmare for a person with a communication
disability.  Persons with communication disabilities reported
that when they make a phone call the people who answer the phone
usually take action which immediately ends the conversation.  

                    For example, most people would:

               a.   Immediately say, "I can't understand you."
               b.   Put them on hold, and/or
               c.   Promptly refer the call to their supervisor

     5.   Listening pays off

                    In most cases, persons with communication
disabilities can be understood if the listener takes the time to
listen to what they have to say.

                    In conducting interviews with persons with
severe communication disabilities for this handbook, the author
was surprised by the ease with which he was able to understand
what people were saying after two to four minutes of attentive

Myth Blasting

                   Having slow speech, or any speech difference,
does not mean you can't or don't want to talk for yourself.

         Slow speech does not equal a slow mind.
                   Having a communication disability does not
mean a person is drunk.

                   Having a communication disability does NOT
mean that you have other disabilities.

                   Having slow or difficult speech does NOT
constitute an inability to achieve a fulfilling life and a
satisfying lifestyle. 


               1.Take time, relax, and listen

                    Be patient, give the person the time they
desire to be able to speak for themselves.  Focus your attention
on what is being communicated.  Don't be afraid that you can't
deal with the person who has a communication disability.  With a
little time and patience, you can comfortably converse with a
person with a communication disability.

                    Trying to rush the conversation or second
guess what a person has to say may only increase their stress and
reduce effective communication.  Speed is not the goal.  If you
push for quick answers, it can make it more difficult for the
person with the communication disability to answer.  
               2.It's okay to say, "I don't understand"

                    It is okay to say, "I don't understand," if
you have given someone the time and patience they require to send
their message.

     3.Solicit and provide feedback

                    If necessary, repeat your understanding of
the message in order to clarify and/or confirm what was said. 
Or, ask to have information repeated.  Sometimes spelling words
can be helpful.

                    If you are experiencing some difficulty
communicating, explain what you would like to do to facilitate
the communication.  Be sure to solicit feedback on your proposed
solution before taking action.

               4.Reduce or eliminate background noise

                    By reducing or eliminating background noise,
it may be easier to focus on the conversation. 

               5.Treat persons with communication disabilities
with dignity and respect; listen to their words

          Don't engage in avoidance responses like:

               a.   Immediately putting them on hold.
               b.   Immediately getting someone else to talk with
               c.   Immediately saying "I don't understand." 
                              d.   Asking to talk to someone else
about what the person with the communication disability may need
or want.

               6.Encourage the use of a telephone relay system if
they do not use a TDD or TT


          Don't use language which focuses attention on the
disability, such as:

          - Slurred speech
          - Unintelligible speech

          Use words which more appropriately put the disability
into perspective:

          - Person with a communication disability
          - Person with slow speech
          - Person who uses artificial speech
An Etiquette Handbook
                 People with Learning Disabilities

Just the Facts

               1.May be a "hidden" disability.

               2.People with learning disabilities often have
average to superior intelligence.  They are NOT slow, lazy, or

               3.Learning disabilities are a group of conditions
(probably neurological in origin) that cause significant
difficulties in perception.  The particular disability might be
in the area of auditory, visual, or spatial perception.

               4.Learning disabilities may affect writing
(dysgraphia), reading (dyslexia), mathematics (dyscalculia),
listening comprehension, and/or oral expression.

               5.Learning disabilities cause significant
discrepancy between intellectual capacity and individual

               6.The type of accommodation and learning
strategies vary with the exact nature of the individual's
disability.  Additionally, when the person with a learning
disability has an oral language deficit, it is difficult for them
to express their needs.

Myth Blasting

                   People with learning disabilities are NOT


               1.Do NOT assume a person with a learning
disability is a slow learner or performer.

               2.Learn about the individual's strengths and

               3.Ask for the individual's assistance in planning
An Etiquette Handbook
                 People with Mental (Psychiatric) Disabilities

Just the Facts

               1.There are many different types of mental
illnesses, and each individual diagnosis is determined by a
variety of factors.

               2.The wide range of behaviors associated with
mental illness may vary from indifference to disruptiveness. 
When the illness is active, the individual may or may not be at
risk of harming himself or others.

               3.The wide range of behaviors include, but are not
limited to:  depression, feelings of hopelessness, sadness,
apathy, inattention, poor concentration, fatigue, sleep or eating
disturbances, anxiety, withdrawal, constant talking, joking,
fantasizing, or extreme fear or panic.

               4.Many mental disabilities are controlled by
medication and have little effect on learning.  However, many
medications have side effects which may cause drowsiness or
disorientation, and may also affect learning.

Myth Blasting

                   People who have mental illness DO NOT have
mental retardation (but some people who have mental retardation
may also have mental illness).

                   People with mental illness are NOT "crazy."
An Etiquette Handbook
                       People with Epilepsy

Just the Facts

               1.Also known as a "seizure disorder,"
characterized by a sudden overload of electrical energy in the

               2.Seizures may range from "absence" (formerly
called petit mal) to "generalized" (formerly called grand mal).

               3.Most (approximately 65%) seizure disorders are
controlled with medication, and most have infrequent seizures
while on medication.

Myth Blasting

                   A person cannot swallow his/her tongue during
a seizure.

                   People who have epilepsy are not violent
against themselves or others during a seizure.  But, certain
safety precautions should be taken so that no one is hurt

                   When a person is having a seizure you should
NOT place anything in his/her mouth.

                   Epilepsy does NOT prevent people from
participating in sports, work, or social activities.


               1.Education about seizures will reduce fear and

               2.Discuss with the person with a seizure disorder
their particular needs.

               3.Assist during a seizure by protecting the
individual from environmental safety hazards (move sharp objects,
place pillow under head).
An Etiquette Handbook
                  People with Other Disabilities

Head Trauma

                   "Invisible" yet common _ about 3 million
Americans have head injuries each year, but most injuries are

                   Major head trauma can manifest itself in
headaches, dizziness, uncharacteristic behaviors, personality
changes, and cognitive difficulties.

                   Lasting effects may include difficulties in
seeing and thinking; limited ability to plan or organize
activities; inability to control emotions.


                   Includes more than 100 diseases that involved
inflammation of the joints, such as gout, lupus, and scleroderma
(thickening of skin).

                   The #1 physically disabling condition in the

                   Chronic condition with no known cure; affects
all ages.

                   Can be controlled with medication, rest, and

Multiple Sclerosis

                   Disease of the nervous system.

                   Symptoms can come and go; may be mild or
severe; may include partial or complete paralysis of arms or
legs, numbness, slurred speech, loss of coordination; progressive
but at individually varied rate.

                   Usually strikes adults from ages 20 to 40.


                   Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive, and
potentially fatal disease (not a character flaw or lack of will
power as it was once regarded).  

Substance Abuse

                   Most mental health professionals also regard
substance abuse as an addictive disease.

                   Substance abuse is a condition of
physiological and/or psychological dependence on any of a variety
of chemicals.

Cardiovascular Diseases

                   Includes heart attacks and strokes.


                   Chronic disorder that can be managed with
proper treatment and regular eating schedule.

                   Not all diabetics require insulin injections;
"maturity-onset" diabetes is treated mainly through diet and body
weight control.

AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome)

                   A progressive failure of the immune system;
usually fatal.

                   Transmitted only when the virus passes
directly from the body of a person with AIDS to one without it
via bodily fluids or blood.

                   People who test positive for HIV may develop
AIDS, but do not automatically have AIDS.

                   Persons with AIDS may be afraid to reveal
their condition because of the social stigma, fear and/or
misunderstanding surrounding this illness.  It is therefore
exceptionally important that the strictness of confidentiality be


                   Describes more than 100 diseases, none of
which is contagious.

                   Not necessarily fatal--almost half of all
people with cancer live for five or more years after being
Other Mobility & Hand-Function Impairments

                   A wide range of conditions may limit mobility
and/or hand function.

                   Among the most common permanent disorders are
such musculoskeletal disabilities as partial or total paralysis,
amputation or severe injury, arthritis, active sickle cell
disease, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and cerebral

                   Respiratory and cardiac diseases, which are
debilitating, may consequently affect mobility.

                   Any of these conditions may also impair the
strength, speed, endurance, coordination and dexterity that are
necessary for proper hand function.

End of Document

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