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Disability Etiquette in the Workplace

October 30, 2019

That people with disabilities add value to an organization has been long established. Companies are increasingly waking up to the need for an inclusive workforce. However, despite the best intentions, many employers are still busy figuring out appropriate ways to interact with and bring the best out of their employees who have a disability. Are you one of them? Here are six tips for you:

  1. Use person-first language

Addressing a person as an individual, without pigeonholing them into an overarching “identity” category based on their abilities, is how person-first communication is carried out. Speak with someone who has a disability in the same way as you’d do with anyone else. Refer to the disability only when it’s relevant. Also, choose your words carefully so an individual’s disability status doesn’t become a discriminatory label in the workplace. What matters the most is who they are, not what they are. Here are some examples of person-first, inclusive language:

  • A person with autism
  • An individual with low vision
  • A wheelchair user
  • Accessible parking space
  • Accessibility action plans
  1. Communicate in a friendly way

Talk in a friendly tone when speaking with somebody with a disability. If they don’t understand, leave it to them to ask you to talk in a different way.

  1. Have patience

A person with a disability may not respond instantly to what’s being said. People with autism, for example, may take longer than others to process information because of sensory reasons. A delay in response doesn’t mean they’re rude, inattentive, or hurried.

  1. Stop glorifying disabilities

Not everybody on the autism spectrum is a savant. Not every amputee has scaled the summit of Mt. Everest. Instead of glorifying disabilities, focus on providing personalized support services that every individual with a disability needs to realize their potential and overcome their challenges.

  1. Talk directly

When communicating with a person who has a disability, speak directly and maintain eye contact. Speaking through someone else is an exclusionary practice that shows lack of respect.

  1. Ask before helping

The last thing that someone with a disability needs is to be reminded of their disability. If you want to assist such an employee, first ask whether they need your help. Instead of helping directly, encourage them to do their own work. Unsolicited help can be confusing or disorienting for someone who works differently.