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Thread: Disabled Etiquette

  1. #1

    Disabled Etiquette

    Disabled Etiquette
    "According to a recent poll, 92 percent of us feel admiration mixed with pity when we meet a disabled person. At least 58 percent feel awkward at not knowing how to act."

    You're hurrying through the company parking lot when a motorized wheelchair purrs past you and stops. From the corner of your eye, you see that the driver is using hooks to try to hoist his own briefcase into a waiting van. What should you do?

    If you don't know to simply offer help, you're like most Canadians. According to a recent poll, 92 percent of us feel admiration mixed with pity when we meet a disabled person. And at least 58 percent feel awkward at not knowing how to act. The Canadian Human Rights Code has provided Canada's disabled people with opportunities to work and interact with others. But the CHRC has also caught supervisors and co-workers off guard: What is the proper etiquette to use with disabled people?

    Situations and Suggestions

    Situation: In a busy office building, you and a woman in a wheelchair are waiting for an elevator. A crush of people exits, and new passengers block the way. What should you do? "When you see someone with a disability struggling," says Sandra Gordon, senior vice president for corporate communications of the National Easter Seal Society, "it's OK to offer to help. But offer; don't just push someone's wheelchair." Rules of thumb: Ask first and follow instructions.

    Situation: At a crowded business conference, the man in front of you sits in a wheelchair, blocks your view, and cramps your leg room. Is it all right to lean forward and rest your feet on his wheel? "You wouldn't lean on a stranger, would you?" asks Mary Ann Jones, a paraplegic consultant. Jones reports that she has had people discourteously hang onto her wheelchair like a doorknob or use it as a footstool. Rules of thumb: Treat a wheelchair as personal space. Talk directly to the person in the chair. Kneel at eye level to have a conversation.

    Situation: A blind colleague strides down the hall searching for an office. You see him bump into the walls and then miss his doorway. What should you do? Use common sense. When Glenn Wiemer, a social-studies teacher, lost his sight to diabetes, he advised his co-workers: "Always tell me who you are. I can't always identify you by voice. Tell me who else is with you, too. And tell me when you leave, so I don't keep talking to myself. Don't grab my arm - I might lose my balance. Let me take yours instead. It's OK to ask how I am. And don't worry about hurting my feelings with words like blind." Rules of thumb: Identify yourself and others to blind people. Offer help, but wait for instructions.

    Situation: At a business convention, you are introduced to a woman whose speech is so garbled and halting that you understand virtually nothing she says. What do you do? Paraphrase what you think she has said. Or, ask her to rephrase her comments, suggest the experts. Rules of thumb: Take the time to listen. Assume the speaker is saying something worth hearing.

    Watch Out For Labels

    One last suggestion: Watch what you say. Some words, such as victim, crippled, handicapped, and wheelchair-bound, are insensitive terms. Some disabled people even avoid the term physically challenged. Use disabled-but only as an objective, not as classification.

    "A handicap," says John Kemp, executive director of United Cerebral Palsy Associates, "is a doorknob I can't turn or someone's negative attitude about me. Those inhibit me. My disability is not my condition. I want you to see me as a person, not as a disability."

  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Nov 2001
    WPB, Florida

  3. #3
    "admiration mixed with pity" - ugh.

  4. #4


    Seems pretty accurate regardless of country, circumstances.

    Instead of pity I wish they would feel compassion and ask themselves "what can I do?" to cure them.

    Wishful thinking, I know. But one at a time will contribute to our cause.

    Onward and Upward!

  5. #5
    Originally posted by seneca:

    Disabled Etiquette
    "Kneel at eye level to have a conversation. ."
    I've heard this many times - I've even had a student criticize me for not doing it (I'm an OT). But - I don't have a kneeling position that's eye level with someone sitting in a wheelchair - does anyone? Besides I can't kneel for a very long time - like most people. So - for me, kneeling would be signalling I don't plan to talk to you for very long........

    Go grab a chair , for Petes sake - or sit on the floor when the conversation gets interesting. Yes, I do kneel at times when talking to someone sitting in a chair - but doing it every time, all the time seems strange advice to me.

    What do you think about this?

  6. #6
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Aug 2001
    Glenelg,Maryland USA
    It does not bother me when i am ignored in a situationn that i could use some help,it forces me to learn how to take care of it.I have found that most people are very helpful,opening doors,letting me get on the elevator and making sure the door does not close on me.I guess I am lucky,I am almost alsway aked if i need help.The only thing that bothers me is if someone thinks i need help wheeling up a hill and comes from behind and starts pushing,i have hurt my fingers that way a couple of times.I do apprciate when i am talking to someone that they bend down to eye level

  7. #7
    Senior Member Tara's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2001
    BC, Canada
    I dont mind if strangers dont help, but it really bothers me when they sit and watch me struggle with something like a heavy door. Either be polite enough to ask if I need a hand or turn away dont sit and stare thinking "Hmmm that looks tough I wonder what she will do?"
    Once I had a senior citizen woman chasing me around the grocery store telling me to slow down so that she could push me......
    Who knows.....

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