If you are a first time volunteer working with people who have disabilities,
you may feel uncomfortable. Reviewing some basic etiquette may help
you overcome your discomfort and set a friendly and relaxed tone for
your interactions with Ability Connection clients. We have also included
a number of more specific guidelines for interactions with people
who have particular disabilities.
- Relax, be friendly, but not patronizing. Treat adults as adults.
- Remember, you are interacting with a person, not dealing with
a disability or condition.
- Talk directly to the person with whom you are interacting, even
if they are accompanied by a friend, helper or interpreter.
- Keep an open mind. Do not make assumptions about the limits of
a person's abilities.
- Always ask before trying to help someone, then wait until the
offer is accepted.
There are also number of specific considerations for interacting
with people who have disabilities:
People who use wheelchairs
- Talk to the person in the wheelchair, not her or his friend, companion
- Put yourself on the same level as the person to whom you are talking.
You can squat or kneel, but if you are going to have a conversation,
get a chair and sit down. You will be more comfortable and so will
the person in the wheelchair.
- Don't lean on the wheelchair.
- Do not push or move a person's wheelchair without permission.
People who have a hearing impairment
- Look directly at the person. This is true whether the person you
are talking to is speech-reading, has a signing interpreter, hearing
aids or some combination. We communicate with our facial expressions
and body language as well as our voice. Allow your conversational
partner your full range of communication.
- Speak clearly, slowly and at a normal volume. Do not exaggerate
your speech or raise your voice. Shouting can make your speech more
difficult to understand.
- When an interpreter is assisting with the conversation, do not
talk to the interpreter; address yourself to the person with whom
you are talking.
People who have a speech impairment
- Listen attentively and patiently.
- Wait until the person has finished speaking. Do not try and complete
sentences for him or her.
- If you do not understand something, say so. Repeat what you do
understood and allow the person to respond.
- Ask questions that can be answered with short replies.
People who have a vision impairment
- Greet the person and identify yourself and anyone who is with
- If you customarily shake hands, ask, "Shall we shake hands?"
- Always ask permission before trying to help a person move about.
- If the person accepts your assistance, offer your arm to guide
her or him. Do not try to push or pull the person.
- Tell the person before you move.
- Allow guide dogs to do their work. Do not pet or distract them