An understanding of disability etiquette can help make employees feel more comfortable when interacting with coworkers, supervisors, and customers with disabilities. Good disability etiquette can also help prevent potentially uncomfortable situations, expand business opportunities, and help agencies serve customers more effectively.
Disability etiquette refers to respectful communication and interaction with people who have disabilities. The principles of disability etiquette are fairly simple. First and foremost, rely on common sense to guide your interactions with people with disabilities and behave in the same courteous and respectful way that you would with anyone.
While the general disability etiquette guidelines above are applicable for individuals with all kinds of disabilities, it can sometimes be helpful to have more detailed guidance related to specific types of disabilities.
Visit Ask EARN's Disability Etiquette page for specific tips for communicating with individuals with mobility impairments, visual impairments or blindness, speech impairments, learning disabilities, cognitive disabilities, deafness, and hard of hearing.
The District of Columbia's Office of Disability Rights created a 3:40 minute video on disability etiquette. This video is highly recommended and can be used as an effective resource for managers and employees alike.
Computer/Electronic Accomodations Program (CAP) has created a series of online training modules to help you understand how to hire employees with disabilities and wounded, ill, and injured service members. Specifically, their disability etiquette series has a total of six short videos (two to seven minutes in length).
People First Language is an objective way of acknowledging, communicating, and reporting on disabilities. It eliminates generalizations, assumptions and stereotypes by focusing on the person rather than the disability. By placing the person first, the disability is no longer the primary, defining characteristic of an individual, but one of several aspects of the whole person. For example, when referring to a person with a disability, refer to the person first by using phrases such as: "a person who...", "a person with...", or "a person who has..." While some people may not use preferred terminology, it's important that you do not repeat negative terms that stereotype, devalue, or discriminate. Equally important, ask yourself if the disability is even relevant and needs to be mentioned when referring to an individual.
Define all people by the multiple characteristics they possess. Refer to a person's disability only if it is relevant to the conversation. Do not use the word handicap when referring to a person. Use handicap to refer to a barrier created by people or the environment. Use disability to indicate a functional limitation that interferes with a person's mental, physical, or sensory abilities, such as walking, talking, hearing, and learning.
There are a variety of ways that agency leadership, supervisors, managers, HR professionals, and employees can communicate their commitment to creating an environment that is welcoming and inclusive of people with disabilities.
While the choice to disclose a disability belongs to the employee or applicant, it is important that all agency employees create a culture of inclusion that encourages disclosure in order to:
All employees need the right tools and work environment to effectively perform their jobs. Reasonable accommodations provide individuals with disabilities the opportunity to have equal access to workplace benefits and help to build a productive and dedicated workforce.
Reasonable accommodations are modifications or adjustments to jobs, work environments, or workplace policies that enable qualified employees with disabilities to perform the essential functions of their jobs and have equal opportunity to receive the benefits available to employees without disabilities.
Accommodations can help agencies hire new workers with disabilities, ensure productivity in the workplace, and retain workers who may acquire a disability or become ill.
Examples of accommodations include:
Include an Equal Employment Opportunity statement and reasonable accommodation information in all job advertisements and notices.
Sample statement: "The [State of Minnesota or agency name] is an equal opportunity, affirmative action, and veteran-friendly employer, and encourages all qualified candidates to apply for job opportunities. If you are an individual with a disability who needs assistance or cannot access the online job application and search tools, please contact the [ADA Coordinator or designee's name] at [list phone number and/or email address]. Please indicate what assistance is needed. Provide all employees with your agency's ADA Coordinator name and contact information during their new hire orientation. Provide employees, supervisors, managers, and HR professionals with access to the statewide reasonable accommodation forms.