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Disability Etiquette

A woman in a wheelchair holding a tablet
Keep these basic principles of disability etiquette in mind:

• If you would like to help someone with a disability, ask if he or she needs it, and listen to any instructions the person may want to give.

• 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.

• Treat adults accordingly.

• Call a person by his or her first name only when you extend this familiarity to everyone present.

• Don’t patronize people who use wheelchairs by patting them on the head. Relax. Don’t be embarrassed if you happen to use common expressions that seem to relate to the person’s disability such as “See you later” or “I’ve got to run.”

• When planning events involving persons with disabilities, consider their needs ahead of time. If there’s a potential barrier, like a flight of stairs, narrow doors, or an inaccessible restroom, reach out and discuss the situation with them in advance. If you have a question about access, always ask it and don’t assume you already know the answer.

Disability etiquette when you're with people in wheelchairs:

Don’t lean or hang on someone’s wheelchair.

Do remember that wheelchairs are an extension of personal space. Ask permission before touching someone’s wheelchair.

Don’t place strains on both you and the person’s necks by standing over them for too long.

Do place yourself at the wheelchair user’s eye level to spare both of you a stiff neck if you’re talking for more than a few minutes.

Do consider distance, weather conditions and physical obstacles such as stairs, curbs and steep hills when giving directions.

Disability etiquette when you're with people with vision impairments:

A woman with a vision impairment at a computer with a friend

Don’t grab a person with a vision impairment’s arm in order to guide them.

Do allow a person with a vision impairment to take your arm. This will help you to guide, rather than propel or lead, the person.

Do use specifics such as “left a hundred feet” or “right two yards.”

Disability etiquette when you're with people with a hearing impairment:

Don’t shout.

Do tap the person on the shoulder or wave your hand. Look directly at the person and speak clearly, slowly and expressively to establish if the person can read your lips. Not everyone with hearing impairments can lip-read. Those who do will rely on facial expressions and other body language to help understand. Show consideration by facing a light source and keeping your hands and food away from your mouth when speaking. Keep mustaches well-trimmed. Written notes may also help.

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