Disability Etiquette in the Workplace

We have blogged previously about etiquette when interacting with persons with disabilities.  While very few people would be deliberately rude or thoughtless about accommodating the needs of a disabled person, lack of knowledge about what is appropriate or simply not realizing what may present a challenge can result in etiquette blunders.

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a service of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, has informative brochures on the subject and also will respond to inquiries from employers who need advice on accommodating employees or potential employees with disabilities.

A few good tips from their brochure “Disability Etiquette in the Workplace” are:

  • When interviewing applicants, make sure that the interview location is accessible and has accessible features such as restrooms.
  • Be aware that an applicant with a disability may need to arrange for transportation following the interview.  Provide the applicant with an estimate of interview duration and expected end time, if requested.
  • Speak directly to a person with a disability instead of to a companion or interpreter.
  • Do not pet or distract a guide dog.  When walking alongside someone who is using a service animal, walk on the side opposite the animal.
  • Prepare co-workers and supervisors for the arrival of a new employee with a disability, when appropriate.  This preparation can include training and orientation to disability-specific issues.  Such training should not be used to single out the person with the disability.  An overall disability awareness initiative is best.
  • Do not make assumptions about limitations based on a person’s appearance or the use of assistive devices.  For example, individuals who use mobility aids such as canes, walkers or wheelchairs have different limitations and may use them regularly or only as required by their limitations.  Also, a person with a condition such as asthma or a heart condition may appear to be mobile but require a mobile device or, for example, accessible parking.
  • When walking with a person with visual impairments, offer your arm instead of taking his or her arm.  As you walk, tell the person where you are going, make note of steps or slopes, and point out opening doors or other obstacles.
  • Ask whether a person needs assistance before you help.  Extend the same courtesies to individuals with disabilities as you would others.  Do not be afraid to ask how you can help, and do not be offended if assistance is declined.
  • When speaking with a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, speak using a normal tone of voice unless asked to raise your voice, and rephrase rather than repeat the same words if you are not understood.
  • When talking with a person with speech impairments, be patient and listen.  Do not complete words or sentences for the individual.  Do not be afraid to say you do not understand.  Ask him or her to repeat, listen carefully, and repeat back what you heard to verify.  If necessary, request he write it down.
  • Remember to include employees with disabilities in emergency evacuation planning and procedures.

JAN also has brochures on Disability Etiquette Tips for Speaking Engagements and Real-Time Communication Etiquette for Communicating with Customers with Disabilities available on their website.