Have you ever considered the impact your interactions have on the people you communicate with on a daily basis? How about people with disabilities? If you aren’t familiar with disability etiquette, don’t feel bad, you aren’t alone. Disability etiquette can be a complicated topic and many not involved in the disability advocacy community might not even know it exists. I must confess, before working at The Independence Center (The IC) in Colorado Springs, I had never heard of disability etiquette. Though the concept seemed obvious after I learned about it, my limited interactions with people with disabilities had left me feeling unsure of how I should approach them. A few examples of disability etiquette include “focusing on the person, not the disability,” and “don’t assume that someone with a disability needs assistance.” There is also specific terminology that should and should not be used when communicating with or about people with disabilities.
Put simply, disability etiquette is the manner in which you should interact with people with disabilities. It’s not a law or mandatory obligation, but rather a set of guidelines to follow to help people with disabilities feel more comfortable in their daily interactions. At The Independence Center, I regularly work with employees and consumers using wheelchairs, people who are blind or deaf, people with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and others. In the relationships I have developed with this great group of people, one thing I have learned is that disability etiquette matters. Everyone wants to be treated with respect. Through independent living, advocacy, peer support, instructive classes, and all of the other departments at The IC, everyone works tirelessly to improve the lives of our consumers. And educating people on disability etiquette goes a long way to bridge the gap and make the world a better place for everyone.
Being aware of and actively practicing disability etiquette means that people with disabilities are treated with dignity, and therefore feel respected. This really comes down to the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. According to the Social Security Administration, of today’s 20 year-olds, over 25% will become disabled before reaching retirement. So next time you see someone with a disability, realize that at some point in the not-so-distant future, you could be the one in their shoes.