When interacting with a person with a disability, the best guideline is to behave no differently than you would with someone without a disability. Making assumptions about how you can help them or what they can and cannot do may do more harm than good.
In general, assumptions can be hurtful and embarrassing. They put people at the mercy of another person’s opinions, misconceptions, and biases. They remove any sense of the individual involved and reduce them to a cluster of labels and stereotypes. Assumptions about a person’s disability are no exception. A lot of poor etiquette around persons with disabilities results from a lack of knowledge, and making assumptions about what a person with a disability can and cannot do.
- Do not assume that a person needs or wants your help because they appear to be doing something you see as difficult for them. Most people with disabilities know their limits, and when they should ask for help. For many, maintaining their independence and continuing to push their limits is a very important part of life. By cutting into a task and trying to do it for them, you are taking away their independence and sending the message that they can’t or shouldn’t do something.
- Do not assume that a person’s hearing loss means they cannot tell when you’re talking about them. Aside from this behaviour being rude, it’s ignoring the fact that many people with hearing loss still have some level of hearing, can often read lips, and are often adept at reading a person’s face and body language.
- Do not assume that a person with a vision loss is aware of your presence. Announce yourself, and introduce yourself if you haven’t met before. Also, look at the person when you speak to them, don’t assume they can’t tell when you’re looking away.
When interacting with a person with a disability, the best way to behave is the way you would behave with a person without a disability. Don’t make assumptions, be polite, and ask questions. If you want to know more about disability etiquette, check out our Disability Etiquette Guide.