Disability Matters

18 August 2006

In a regular column to be known as Disability Matters, Monday Paper will in partnership with the Disability Service Resource Centre run a series of tips on interacting with people with disabilities. These are taken from the booklet Disability Etiquette by Judy Cohen. We run the first in this series this week, and start off with the basics. For more information on disability, visit the Disability Service Resource Centre at Room 4.05, Level 4, in the Steve Biko Students Union Building on upper campus.


  • Ask before you help. Just because someone has a disability, don't assume they need help. If the setting is accessible, people with disabilities can usually get around fine. Adults with disabilities want to be treated as independent people. Offer assistance only if the person appears to need it. And if they do want help, ask how before you act.

  • Be sensitive about physical contact. Some people with disabilities depend on their arms for balance. Grabbing them - even if your intention is to assist - could knock them off balance. Avoid patting a person on the head or touching his wheelchair, scooter or cane. People with disabilities consider their equipment part of their personal space.

  • Think before you speak. Always speak directly to the person with a disability, not to their companion, aide or sign language interpreter. Making small talk with a person who has a disability is great; just talk to them as you would with anyone else. Respect their privacy. If you ask about their disability, they may feel like you are treating them as a disability, not as a human being. (However, many people with disabilities are comfortable with children's natural curiosity and do not mind if a child asks them questions.)

  • Respond graciously to requests. When people who have a disability ask for an accommodation at your business, it is not a complaint. It shows they feel comfortable enough in your establishment to ask for what they need. And if they get a positive response, they will probably come back again and tell their friends about the good service they received.

  • Don't make assumptions. People with disabilities are the best judge of what they can or cannot do. Don't make decisions for them about participating in any activity. Depending on the situation, it could be a violation of the ADA to exclude people because of a presumption about their limitations.

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