Disability Awareness: Increasing Employers Understanding of the ADA, Accommodations & Other Supports in the Workplace
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course outline

i. introduction

ii. my story

iii. history

iv. myth & facts

v. research

vi. etiquette

vii. case studies

viii. resources

ix. completion certificate


disability etiquette 

A. How to Communicate

  1. General Tips for Communicating with People with Disabilities

  • Always focus on the individual, not the disability. Use “people first” language – meaning, refer to the individual first, then to his or her disability. (It is better to say “the person with a disability” rather than “the disabled.”)

  • When communicating with an individual with a disability, speak directly to the person with the disability rather than their companion or interpreter.

  • When introduced to a person with a disability, it is appropriate to offer to shake hands. If the person has limited hand use or has an artificial limb, it is ok to shake what is offered to you. It is equally acceptable to politely touch them on the shoulder/arm or offer a smile/nod to reciprocate a warm greeting.

  • Any and all assistive devices such as wheelchairs, crutches, canes, communication boards, service animals, etc. should always be respected as personal property or extensions of that person. Do not use, lean on, play with or move unless given permission.

  • If you would like to offer assistance to a person with a disability, always ask first, wait until the offer is accepted, then listen patiently and follow their instructions. If the person declines your help, respect their decision and do not proceed to assist.

  • Relax. It is ok to use expressions such as “See you later,” or “Did you hear about this?” as it is common phrases that everyone uses, including people with disabilities.

  • As with all other etiquette issues, when mistakes are made, apologize, correct the problem, learn from the mistake, and move on.

  1. Specific communication tips for working with people with Mobility Impairments

    Persons with mobility impairments have limited use or have lost the function of their limb(s) or an entire portion of their body. Depending on the location and scope of the loss, the person may have difficulty physically handling things or may require support for some other function. Appropriate support and accommodation from assistive devices such as wheelchairs, crutches, prosthetics, computerized head sticks and other equipment enable persons with physical disabilities to become independent and productive members of the workplace.

  • Never lean on the person’s wheelchair, unless permitted. The chair is part of the space that belongs to the person who uses it.

  • When talking with a person in a wheelchair for more than a few minutes, “squat down” or use a chair, if possible, in order to place yourself at the person’s eye level to facilitate conversation.

  • Do not talk down to the person or make inappropriate gestures such as patting the person on the head. Refrain from using remarks such as “you have a license to drive that thing” or “how fast can that go” to initiate conversation with persons in wheelchairs.

  1. Specific communication tips for people who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing

    Persons who are deaf or hard-of-hearing communicate in different ways. In the United States, most people who are deaf use American Sign Language (ASL). ASL, however, it is not a universal language and is a language with its own syntax and grammatical structure. Some persons who are deaf use speech, sign, or finger-spell; not all people who are deaf can lip-read either. The key in working with persons who are deaf and hard of hearing is to find out what techniques they prefer to use.

  • To get the attention of a person with a hearing impairment, tap the person on the shoulder or wave your hand.

  • When speaking, look directly at the person and speak clearly, naturally and slowly to establish if the person can read lips. Not all persons with hearing impairments can lip-read. Those who can will rely on facial expression and other body language to help in understanding.

  • Show consideration by placing yourself facing the light source and keeping your hands, cigarettes, and food away from your mouth while speaking.

  • Do not shout at a hearing impaired person. Shouting distorts sounds accepted through hearing aids and inhibits lip reading.

  • If you are with someone with a hearing disability in a group, provide whatever support with which the person is comfortable so that the person can follow what is being said.

  1. Specific communication tips for working with people with Blind or Visual Impairments

    When we think of blindness, we tend to think of total darkness. However, there are varying degrees of sight. A person considered “legally blind” may not be able to recognize a person across the room, but may still be able to see printed materials when held very close. Low vision can likely be affected by light, direction, movement, or glare. With the right accommodation and support, people who are blind or visually impaired have the same range of abilities as anyone else.

  • When greeting a person with a severe loss of vision, always identify yourself and others who may be with you.  Example:  “On my right is Robert Smith.”

  • When conversing in a group, identify the person to whom you are speaking. Let the person know if you move or need to end the conversation.

  • Do not shout at a person who is blind or visually impaired – he or she can hear you!

  • Never automatically guide a person with a vision impairment. Allow the person to take your arm (at or about the elbow) – this will enable you to guide rather than propel or lead the person.

  • Avoid pointing or using non-descriptive directions such as “over there” or “up ahead”. More appropriate words are “two feet to your left” or “beside you on the right”.

  1. Specific communication tips for working with people who have Cognitive or Psychiatric Disabilities
    Since cognitive disabilities are invisible disabilities, it may not be noticed unless disclosed from the person. Varying degrees of this type of disability effect differently from person to person. Persons with learning disabilities typically have average to above average intelligence, and can be highly functional when given appropriate support and training.

  • Speak in a normal volume, tone, and pace.

  • Act as a peer at an adult-to-adult level.

  • Don’t assume the person is not listening just because you are not getting verbal or visual feedback. Ask him/her whether she understands or agrees.

  • Don’t assume you have to explain everything to people with learning disabilities. They do not necessarily have a problem with general comprehension.

  1. Specific communication tips for working with people with Speech and Language Impairments
    Persons with Speech and Language Impairments often have difficulty expressing their thoughts verbally, which may not be associated with any cognitive or learning disability. Impairments in speech are often a result of a trauma such as a stroke or other pre-existing physical disability.

  • Listen attentively when you’re talking to a person who has speech impairments.

  • Exercise patience rather than attempting to speak for a person with speech difficulty. When necessary, ask short questions that require short answers, a nod or a shake of the head.

  • Never pretend to understand if you are having difficulty doing so. Repeat what you understand and the person’s reactions will clue you in and guide you to understanding.

  • Speak with a normal tone of voice. Most speech-impaired persons can hear and understand without difficulty.

  1. Test your knowledge



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