On this page, you can find helpful tips and guidance on topics related to accessibility.
Communicating With People With Disabilities
Communicating With People With Disabilities
Speak directly to the individual you are addressing, not to a companion or sign language interpreter.
Offer to shake hands when introduced. People with limited hand use or an artificial limb can often shake hands. Otherwise, offering the left hand is an acceptable greeting.
Always identify yourself and others who may be with you when meeting someone with a visual disability.
When conversing in a group, remember to identify the person to whom you are speaking.
When dining with a friend who has a visual disability, ask if you can describe what is on his plate.
If you offer assistance, wait until the offer is accepted. Then listen and ask for instructions.
Treat adults as adults.
Address people with disabilities by their first names only when extending the same familiarity to all others.
Never patronize people in wheelchairs by patting them on the head or shoulder.
- Do not lean against or hang on someone’s wheelchair. Bear in mind that people with disabilities treat their chairs as an extension of their bodies. So do people with guide dogs and help dogs.
- Never distract a work animal from their job without the owner’s permission.
- Listen attentively when talking with people who have difficulty speaking and wait for them to finish. If necessary, ask short questions that require short answers, or a nod of the head.
- Never pretend to understand. Instead, repeat what you have understood and allow the person to respond.
- Place yourself at eye level when speaking with someone in a wheelchair or on crutches.
- Tap a person who has a hearing disability on the shoulder or wave your hand to get his or her attention.
- Look directly at the person and speak clearly, slowly, and expressively to establish if the person can read your lips. If so, try to face the light source and keep hands, cigarettes and food away from your mouth when speaking.
- If a person is wearing a hearing aid, don’t assume that they have the ability to discriminate your speaking voice. Never shout at a person. Just speak in a normal tone of voice.
- Relax. Don’t be embarrassed if you happen to use common expressions such as “See you later.” or “Did you hear about this?” that seem to relate to a person’s disability.
Modified from the video “The 10 Commandments of Communicating with People with Disabilities” by Irene M. Ward & Associates.
Disability Etiquette Tips
When interacting with a person with a disability it is important to be mindful of how best to do so, depending on his or her disability. These etiquette tips will help you in your relationship with a person with a disability.
Persons Using Wheelchairs
Persons with Speech Difficulties
Persons with Cognitive/Language Impairments
Persons with Hearing Loss
Persons with Vision Loss
Persons with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities
Persons with Mental Health Disabilities
Persons Using Wheelchairs:
- A person’s wheelchair is part of his or her body space and should be treated with respect. Don’t hang or lean on it unless you have the person’s permission.
- Speak directly to the person and if the conversation lasts more than a few minutes, sit down or kneel to get yourself on the same level as the person in the wheelchair.
- Don’t worry about using expressions such as “running along” or “walked away” when speaking to a person in a wheelchair. These sayings are used in everyday conversation and are not offensive.
- Wheelchair use provides freedom. Don’t assume that using a wheelchair is in itself a tragedy. It is a means of freedom, which allows the person to move about independently. Structural barriers in public places create inconveniences for wheelchair users. You can help by advocating for wheelchair access.
- When giving wheelchair users directions, be aware of architectural barriers such as narrow doorways, stairs, curbs, etc.
- When a person transfers out of the wheelchair to a chair, toilet, car or other object, do not move the wheelchair out of reaching distance. Some people who use a wheelchair for mobility can walk with aid, such as braces, walkers, or crutches. They use wheelchairs some of the time to conserve energy and move about more quickly.
- Don’t classify persons who use wheelchairs as sick. Although wheelchairs are often associated with hospitals, they are used more frequently to help people with mobility disabilities get around their home, work and community.
- Relationships are Important. Have eye and physical contact with chair users in the same respectful manner you would a person that isn’t in a wheelchair.
Persons with Speech Difficulties:
- Give whole, unhurried attention to the person who has difficulty speaking.
- Keep your manner encouraging rather than correcting.
- Rather than speak for the person, allow extra time for the conversation and be patient. Do not finish a person’s sentence.
- If you have difficulty understanding, don’t pretend that you do. Repeat as much as you do understand. The person’s reaction will guide you and clue you in.
- Ask the person what is the best way to communicate. (i.e. write or type their message, point to pictures or the alphabet).
Communication with Persons with Cognitive/Language Impairments:
- Use a calm voice and be reassuring. Use short sentences and simple, concrete words.
- Keep your manner encouraging rather than correcting.
- May be sensitive to tone of voice.
- Don’t rush, trust is built slowly.
- You should treat adults as adults.
- Encourage self-advocacy and opportunities for autonomy.
- Treat each person as an individual with talents and abilities deserving of respect and dignity. Individuals can usually tell if they are being talked down to like a child, which can make a situation worse.
- Give extra time for the person to process what you are saying and to respond. Look for signs of stress and/or confusion.
Persons with hearing loss:
- Hearing aids do not guarantee that the person can hear and understand speech. They increase volume, not necessarily clarity.
- Get the person’s attention with a wave of the hand, or a tap on the shoulder. Move away from background noise.
- Speak clearly and slowly, but without exaggerating your lip movements or shouting. Be flexible in your language. If the person experiences difficulty understanding what you are saying, switch the words around and rephrase your statement rather than keep repeating. If difficulty persists, write down what you are saying.
- Many persons with hearing loss read lips. Place yourself facing the light source and keep hands, cigarettes and food away from your mouth when talking in order to provide a clear view of your face.
- When an interpreter accompanies a person, direct your remarks to the person rather than to the interpreter.
- Look directly at the person and speak expressively. The person who has a severe hearing loss will rely on your facial expressions, gestures, and body movements to assist in understanding. Use sign language if you and the person are both familiar with it. Ask what the person prefers.
Persons with Vision Loss:
- People with visual impairments do not necessarily hear better than others or have ultra developed sense of touch. They may have trained their other senses to assist them with mobility, etc.
- When you enter a room, indicate who you are. Let the person know when you are leaving the room. When talking to a person with a visual impairment, begin by identifying yourself and that you are speaking to them.
- When offering your assistance, do not grab a person’s cane or arm; this can be very disorienting for the person. If you are walking with a person who is blind, offer your arm for them to hold. The person may feel most comfortable walking a half step behind. Walk at your normal pace. It is helpful to speak casually and naturally about the terrain, objects and buildings you are passing as you walk. Stop for curbs and steps; let the person know if he or she should step up or down. Once you have indicated up or down, proceed and they will follow.
- Don’t worry about using words such as “see” or “look” in your conversation. These words are a part of everyday conversation and are not offensive.
- Not all visually impaired people read Braille. Ask the person what alternative format they prefer.
- Do not pet a guide dog unless you have been given permission – these dogs are working and they need to concentrate.
- Remember that you’ll need to communicate any written information orally.
Persons with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities:
- Reassure the person that you understand he or she is chemically sensitive and that you will work with him or her in providing care. Be sure to ask what the person is sensitive to, including his or her history of reactions to various drugs you may have to administer.
- Whenever seeking care at a facility, such as a hospital, it is beneficial for a person with multiple chemical sensitivity to take his or or her own medical supplies and equipment with them, including oxygen mask and tubing, medications, food and water, bedding, clothing and soap – he or she may be sensitive to these items if issued at a shelter or hospital.
- Avoid placing the person in rooms with recent pesticide sprays, strong scented products like disinfectants, cleaners, scented candles and room fresheners, new paint or carpet, or other recent remodeling.
- Allow the person to wear a mask or respirator, use an air filter, or open a window as needed.
- Consider how your actions may affect the access of others. For some of us, the fragrances we wear have deep personal, religious, or cultural significance. With dialogue, we can find creative ways to deal with the fact that what is empowering to one is dangerous to another. However, if someone moves away from you or asks you to move, don’t be offended – please realize this person just needs to breathe, and honor his or her request. Dialogue is not possible during moments of immediate physical distress.
- Don’t wear any scented products to events that specify “no perfume” or “no fragrance” or similar notice. This means, as much as possible, try to avoid the following:
- Perfume, cologne, aftershave, scented or essential oils.
- Scented lotions, moisturizers, deodorants, or cosmetics.
- Hairspray, gel, or mousse.
- Deodorant (scented), sanitary napkins, or tampons.
- Clothing that has been recently washed in scented detergent/fabric softener OR that has been dry-cleaned OR that has been worn near smoke, fragrance, or petrochemicals.
- Make events you host fragrance-free. Post on flyers, brochures, websites, and event registration forms that your event is fragrance-free and ask participants to avoid wearing scented products to the event.
- Beware that “natural” or “unscented” do no necessarily mean they are safe. “Natural” can mean anything – it is an unregulated word and “unscented” may mean the product contains an additional (toxic) masking fragrance to cover other odors.
Persons with Mental Health Disabilities:
- Listen and pay attention- Pay attention both to verbal communication (words) and nonverbal communication (voice quality and body language).
- Acknowledge the person’s feelings and express care and concern “you seem nervous”, “you seem sad”.
- Validate the person’s feelings – Acknowledge that the person’s feelings are understandable, ie. “I can see how you might feel that way”. This is not the same as agreeing with the person’s reactions.
- Ask the person what may have caused the feelings.
- Do not use psychological terminology/jargon.
- Ask about social supports – family, friends, community, faith, etc. Find out what helped them in the past.
- Remind them that they deserve to feel better.
- Empower the individual – encourage them to think about their personal strengths, their individual gifts/talents, their value as a human being.
- Don’t discourage children from asking questions about disabilities. Children have a natural curiosity that needs to be satisfied so they do not develop fearful or misleading attitudes. Most people are not offended by questions children ask them about their disabilities or wheelchairs.
- Remember that the person with a disability is a person like anyone else.
- Appreciate and emphasize what the person can do.
- It is appropriate to offer your help if you think it is needed, but don’t be surprised or offended if the person would rather do it himself. If you are uncertain how to assist, ask the one who needs assistance.
Disability Etiquette& Communication
Disability Etiquette & Communication
Make sure that your organization's website is accessible and includes alt tags (text describing graphics) and/or a link to a text only version of your site. If you have a no-pet policy, make sure you state that you allow service dogs.
Make sure your staff is aware of your organization's accessibility and is trained to respond accurately to inquiries about accessibility. Have a list of your facility’s accessible features available for staff and identify those features on your website.
Speak directly to the individual you are addressing, not to a companion or sign language interpreter. Never shout at a person. Speak in a normal tone of voice.
When you meet someone with a vision disability, always identify yourself and others who may be with you. Be sure to let the individual know when you are leaving.
Listen attentively when talking with people who have difficulty speaking and wait for them to finish. If necessary, ask questions that require short answers or a nod of the head. Never pretend to understand. Instead, repeat what you have understood and allow the person to respond.
Service animals are working animals, not pets. Do not pet, feed or distract them.
Person First. Avoid words/phrases such as handicapped, victim, confined to a wheelchair, wheelchair bound, cripple, suffers from, retarded, mute, or dumb. Always remember that you are talking to a person…a customer.
Welcome service animals into your establishment. Service animals assist people with all types of disabilities, including individuals who are blind, Deaf, have epilepsy, use wheelchairs, and many others. If pets are not allowed and it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed:
(1) Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
(2) What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task. When in doubt or debate, err on the side of caution and permit the animal.
Practical Tips To HelpThe Hospitality Industry
Practical Tips to Help the Hospitality Industry
Accessibility pays dividends and makes good business sense.
By the year 2030, 71.5 million Baby Boomers will be over the age of 65 and demanding products, services, and environments that address their age-related physical changes.
"Accessibility attracts not only people with disabilities but also their families and friends. This expands the potential market exponentially!" — U.S. Dept. of Justice
"This group has $175 billion in discretionary spending power." — U.S. Dept. of Labor
Tax Incentives for ADA Modifications
Businesses can take advantage of two Federal tax incentives available to help cover costs of making access improvements for customers with disabilities:
- A tax credit for small businesses who remove access barriers from their facilities, provide accessible services, or take other steps to improve accessibility for customers with disabilities
- A tax deduction for businesses of all sizes that remove access barriers in their facilities or vehicles
A business that annually incurs eligible expenses to bring itself into compliance with the ADA may use these tax incentives every year.
Example: Hotel ABC spent $20,000 on access improvements by modifying their guest rooms and front entrance. These expenditures qualify under both the tax credit and deduction, so ABC can use these incentives in combination. They may first take a tax credit of $5,000 (based on $10,250 of expenditures) and then deduct $15,000 (the difference between the total expenditures and the amount of the credit claimed).
Readily Achievable Barrier Removal
“We believe that it is important to re-emphasize that determining whether removal of a particular barrier is readily achievable requires a case-by-case assessment that may vary from business to business and sometimes from one year to the next for the same business. If a public accommodation determines that its facilities have barriers that should be removed pursuant to the ADA, but it is not readily achievable to undertake all of the modifications immediately, the Department recommends, as it has for many years, that the public accommodation develop an implementation plan designed to achieve compliance with the ADA’s barrier removal requirements over time. Indeed, the March 15, 2012 effective date for the 2010 Standards reflects an 18-month delay in implementation of the revised requirements, which delay was provided, in part, to allow businesses sufficient time to consider the new requirements while developing plans to meet their on-going barrier removal obligations. Such a plan, if appropriately designed and diligently executed, may well serve as evidence of a good faith effort to comply with the ADA’s barrier removal requirements.”
~2/21/12 Letter from the Dept. of Justice to the American Hotel & Lodging Association