Tips for Interacting with People with Disabilities

Remember that people with disabilities have many levels of experiences—their disability is simply one aspect of their complex identities.

  • When a person with a disability may need assistance, it is appropriate to offer help. Wait until the offer is accepted and instructions are given to provide assistance. Do not be offended if your offer to help is declined—there are a myriad of reasons why a person might reject help, including the desire to practice completing the task independently.
  • Never lean on, touch, or move a person’s assistive equipment without first getting their consent.
  • If a person with a disability is using a service animal, never touch or distract the animal without the owner’s approval. To do so could be unsafe to the owner and is disruptive.
  • To get the attention of someone who is Deaf/hard of hearing, tap or touch them lightly, or wave your hand. If they are using an interpreter, speak directly to the person, not the interpreter.
  • Be aware of obstacles or hazards in your environment that may pose a hazard. Examples include cracked or broken sidewalks or paths, spills, loose rugs, and objects blocking traffic patterns or protruding into the path of travel.
  • Never pat someone on the head or grab someone’s arm.
  • Never be afraid to invite someone with a disability to participate in an event or activity. If there are concerns about accessibility or that the person may not be able to participate fully, voice these concerns and work through them together. Being excluded is isolating and painful.
  • When meeting a person with a disability, offer to shake hands as appropriate with someone who does not have a disability. If the person is unable to take your hand, they will tell you so. Offering to shake hands is seen as a sign of respect.
  • If you are having trouble understanding someone’s speech, ask them to repeat or ask clarifying questions. Pretending to understand what someone said is disrespectful and denies them the opportunity to contribute to the conversation.