Ten do’s and don’ts when you meet a person with a disability

  1. Offer assistance as you would to anyone else. For example, to push a wheelchair or to guide a person who is blind. The person will indicate whether or not the help is needed and, “No, thank you”, must be respected. Most people who are disabled will not hesitate to ask for needed help and will be specific as to how it should be given. For example, a person who is blind usually prefers to take your arm rather than to have you grab his or her arm.
  2. Noticing an obvious disability is not rude; however, asking personal questions about it is inappropriate.
  3. Always talk directly to a person who is disabled rather than to the person who may be accompanying him or her. Never talk about a person with a disability to the person that he or she is with as if the person does not exist. This includes an interpreter for a person who is deaf.
  4. Do not be concerned if you use the words “walking” or “running” when talking to a person who uses a wheelchair, or, “Do you see?”, when talking to a person who is blind. People with disabilities use these words themselves and think nothing of it.
  5. Do not avoid using words like blind or deaf when associating with people with these disabilities. People who are disabled are aware of their disabilities and do not need to be shielded from the facts.
  6. When talking, for any length of time, to a person who uses a wheelchair, it is better to sit down in order to be at the same eye level. It is very tiring for a person to look up for a long time.
  7. Be sensitive to architectural barriers in the facility. Be aware of federal and state laws that may apply to eliminating architectural barriers in your establishment. Everyone must be concerned and alert to this very real problem.
  8. Remember that if a person does not turn around in response to a call, it may be that he or she is deaf. A light tap on the shoulder to get a person’s attention makes sense.
  9. Never gesture about a person who is blind to someone else who may be present. This will inevitably be picked up and the person who is blind feels that you are “talking behind his or her back”.
  10. Lip reading by persons who are deaf can be aided by being sure that the light is on your face, not behind you, and by taking all obstructions, such as gum, out of the mouth. Additional communication could include keeping the lips flexible, speaking slowly, body language, pantomime, gestures of all kinds, and written communication, if necessary.

* Adapted from Serving Disabled People: An Information Handbook for Libraries, by Ruth Velleman.