Disability Etiquette


At first, faculty and staff members may feel uncomfortable when interacting with students with disabilities. This happens when one focuses completely on the disability and not on the individual as a person, thereby creating an attitudinal barrier.

The following section outlines effective ways to interact and communicate with students with disabilities. Its purpose is to support a positive environment for faculty and students so that both can feel at ease.

Visual Disabilities

  • When meeting a person who is visually impaired, always identify yourself and others who may be with you.
  • When conversing in a group, remember to identify the person to whom you are speaking by name. A gentle touch on the elbow will indicate that you are speaking to him or her.
  • Indicate, in some way, the end of a conversation with a person who is blind in order to avoid the embarrassment of leaving that person speaking when you are no longer there.
  • If you are walking with a person who is blind, don’t grab his or her arm. Rather, let her take your left arm at or above the elbow. She can then follow a half step behind and anticipate changes.
  • Do not leave a blind person standing in “free space” when you serve as a guide.
  • When guiding someone to a chair, place his hand on the back of the chair.
  • Leave doors either all the way open or shut. A half-open door is an invitation to disaster.
  • Guide dogs should not be petted or disturbed while working in harness. When guide dogs are not working, do not pet them without first asking for permission.
  • Do not feed a guide dog. Guide dogs are given a prepared diet at home, and additional feeding may disturb their work routine.

Hearing Disabilities

  • To get the attention of the person who is deaf, tap her on the shoulder or wave your hand. Look directly at the person and speak clearly, slowly, and expressively. Use normal speed unless asked to slow down.
  • Speak at a normal volume unless you are asked to raise your voice.
  • Keep your face and mouth clear and avoid standing in front of light sources in order to make lip-reading easier.
  • Speak directly to the person instead of from the side or back.
  • Speak expressively. Because persons who are deaf cannot hear subtle changes in tone that may indicate sarcasm or seriousness, many will rely on your facial expressions, gestures, and body language to understand you.
  • If you are having trouble understanding a deaf person’s speech, feel free to ask him/her to repeat. If that doesn’t work, rely on paper and pencil.
  • If a person who is deaf is with an interpreter, speak directly to the person who is deaf — not to the interpreter.

Mobility Disabilities

  • Offer help to a person with a mobility disability, but wait until it is accepted before giving it. Giving help before it is accepted is rude and can sometimes be unsafe.
  • When speaking with a person who uses a wheelchair or a person who uses crutches, place yourself at eye level in front of the person in order to facilitate the conversation.
  • Do not lean on the person’s wheelchair. The chair is part of the body space of the person who uses it.
  • When planning an event, ask advice from people with disabilities to ensure accessibility.
  • Always move chairs and obstacles out of the way in aisles and passageways so that people with disabilities can get through.
  • Offer to carry food, notebooks, and large handouts for people who have a mobility disability.
  • Always remember that people with mobility disabilities cannot do things as quickly as people who do not have those disabilities.