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Media Tips When Interviewing Persons Living with Disability

Roughly one in four Americans today lives with a disability. It’s likely that all of us know someone who has a disability – or will develop a disability – at some point in life.

Disability is defined as any visible, invisible, emotional, social and educational challenges that are a part of normal, everyday life. Disability can refer to a medical diagnosis, a barrier and/or a person’s identity.

When referring to those living with a disability, some people prefer person-first language, which puts the person before the disability (e.g., person living with autism, child with autism) while others prefer identity-first language (e.g., autistic person, ), as they feel their disability is an integral part of who they are. If possible, ask the person, or parent, what they prefer. If that is not an option, or they do not have a preference, it is encouraged to always use person-first language (e.g., a child with autism).

Basic principles of disability etiquette:

  • 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.
  • Call a person by his or her first name only when you extend this familiarity to everyone present.
  • 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.”
  • If you have a question about access, always ask it.

Disability etiquette when you're with people in wheelchairs:

  • Don’t lean or hang on someone’s wheelchair.
  • Don’t pat people who use wheelchairs on the head.
  • Remember that wheelchairs are an extension of personal space. Ask permission before touching someone’s wheelchair.
  • 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.

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

  • Don’t grab a person with a vision impairment’s arm in order to guide them.
  • Allow a person with a vision impairment to take your arm. This will help you to guide the person.
  • 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.
  • Look directly at the person and speak clearly 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 away from your mouth when speaking.

Always recognize that an interview is a highly unusual setting. This can be amplified when you’re preparing to work with a person with a disability. Individual prep before any media interview is strongly encouraged. To ensure success, the reporter should take time either before the interview or schedule a prep phone call with people close to the interviewee to ask a few key questions, including:

  • What could I do to make ___ more comfortable?
  • What are some things you want me to know about ___ in advance?

Be sure to notify the interviewee if there are problems with the location. Discuss what to do and make alternate plans.

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