This tool gives you some general guidelines and best practices for interacting with employees with disabilities. These are basic recommendations and some suggested etiquette. You should still use your best judgment and common sense and consider the personal preferences of the individual with whom you are interacting.
The first rule of thumb: connect with the person, not the disability. Individuals with disabilities are individuals, and like people without disabilities, they have their own hopes, interests, strengths, shortcomings, quirks, likes, and dislikes as does anyone else.
We often hear the word “disabled people.” The first word that gets our attention in this phrase is “disabled.” And that’s why this phrase doesn’t work for many individuals with disabilities. Though it’s a little longer to say, the phrase “individuals with disabilities” puts the individual first and centers our attention on the person rather than their disability.
It’s likely that the word “handicapped,” originated from a time when people with disabilities were begging in the streets—making a living with their “hand in their cap.” Because this word brings us back to a time of complete powerlessness for people with disabilities, the word “handicapped” is strongly discouraged by disability advocates and can be offensive to many people with disabilities.
You’ve just met someone and extend your right hand in greeting only to realize that the person does not have a right hand. You’re flustered and embarrassed. But here’s some points to consider:
When someone appears to be struggling, it’s OK to ask what they need. “Would you like some help?” If the person says no, go on with your day. If they say yes, ask, “What can I do?” After asking these questions, just listen and take your cue from the person.
Research shows that veterans with disabilities do have significant fears of disability discrimination in the workplace (Rudstam, Wilson & Gower, 2012). At Cornell, we will work hard to ensure that this fear will not apply in our workplace. We will strive to create a work climate where veterans are welcome, whether or not they have disabilities. Here are a few statements to stay away from when interacting with service members with disabilities:
As with anyone, think more about connecting to the individual than about their disability. Don’t be so worried you’re going to say or do something wrong that you avoid interacting with the person. Reach out, relax, or tell a joke - just as you would with anyone else.
Rudstam, H., Gower, W.S., Streeter, J. (2012). Connecting Veterans with Disabilities with Employers. Paper presented at the 2012 National ADA Symposium, Indianapolis, IN.