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Mansfield University... Developing Tomorrow's Leaders Center of Services for Students with Disabilities


Awareness Tips


Persons with disabilities want nothing more - but nothing less - than equal opportunities and first class citizenship status. However, stereotypes and myths about persons with disabilities are very much a part of our cultural background and people who are not disabled often wonder how to approach individuals with disabilities. Remember to always put the person first, not the disability (i.e., a person who has a visual impairment, not a blind person; a person who has epilepsy, not an epileptic).

Use People-First language. For examples of this, click here:

People-First Language - Examples

or here:

Provider Training Handbook - People First Language

It is important to keep an open mind and to avoid making assumptions and generalizations. For example, do not assume that a person who is deaf cannot communicate effectively with a person who is not. If you are not sure about something, ask first and give people time to do what they are able to do, assisting them in the way they request.

Persons with disabilities have the same wide range of abilities and personalities as other individuals have. They can talk about things other than their disability.'

No one likes to be quizzed about their personal life by strangers and curious people. Get to know a person with a disability first before you start asking personal questions about their disability. Don't make assumptions.

Offer persons with disabilities the same choices as you would anyone else. People with visible and invisible disabilities have the legal right to participate fully in the community.

Speak directly to the person with a disability. Be patient and give the person the chance to express him/herself. Certain disabilities will hamper the speech process but not the thought process. This is a basic courtesy.

Avoid patronizing and paternalistic attitudes. Do not tell someone with a disability you admire their courage and strength. In the same vein, it is not necessary to feel pity for persons with disabilities. In fact most people do not particularly appreciate this type of emotional response. Persons who have a disability are the same as everyone -- some are nice, brave, loving, friendly, and some are not. Life is a challenge for all.

Many of us were raised with the principle that it was not polite to stare. Remember that, if you catch yourself staring at a person with a disability.

Please use the term "person with a disability" never "handicapped".

  • "Disability" - a disability is a functional limitation or restriction of an individual's ability to perform an activity.
  • "Handicap" - an environmental or attitudinal barrier that limits the opportunity for a person to participate fully. Negative attitudes or inaccessible entrances to buildings are examples of handicaps.

Persons who are not disabled have many differences, and the same applies to persons with disabilities. Functional limitations or abilities will vary. Offer assistance if it appears that someone requires it. If your offer is accepted, ask the person what type of assistance he/she would like. Do not be offended if your offer is not accepted.

Although it is important to use accurate terminology, persons with disabilities are comfortable with every day language such as: "Did you see that?" or "Did you enjoy your walk?" Persons who are visually impaired "see" what you mean, and wheelchair users "go for walks".

Persons who are deaf or hard of hearing communicate by using sign language, lip reading, audio aides, paper and pencil, or a combination of any of these.

Skills:

  1. Speak in a normal voice, and directly to the person with a disability rather than to someone else (i.e., "what does she want for lunch?").
  2. Do not exaggerate your speech or yell.
  3. Do not obstruct your mouth with hands or a cigarette.
  4. Keep a pencil and paper handy.

Remove obstacles that would hinder the mobility of any visitors, in particular persons with disabilities.

Not all disabilities are visible or obvious. Therefore, be aware and sensitive to the possibility that you may be dealing with someone who has a learning disability, a mental health or intellectual disability, or epilepsy.

Treat persons with disabilities as you yourself would like to be treated. Remember that dignity and respect are the corner stones to good communication.

Above all, USE COMMON SENSE AND COURTESY!