The Cornell Just-in-Time Toolkit for Managers

Tips, checklists, and resources to help managers lead a disability inclusive workforce.

Print & Go

Let’s talk: Interacting with employees who have disabilities

Person First Language

  • Person first; disability second.
  • “Individuals with disabilities” instead of “the disabled” or “the handicapped.”

 Individuals who use wheelchairs  

  • Never push or touch a wheelchair unless there is imminent danger.
  • When talking with someone who uses a wheelchair for more than a few minutes, pull up a chair and sit down so you can be at eye-level with them.
  • If someone looks like they’re struggling, ask if they’d like help and take your cue from them.

 Individuals who have sensory disabilities (hearing or seeing) 

  • When speaking with someone who uses a sign language interpreter, look directly at the person and not at the interpreter.
  • Let the person know when you’re entering or leaving a conversation.
  • If someone appears to be lost or struggling, ask them if they’d like help and take your cue from them.
  • When assisting someone who is blind, offer your elbow. Lead, don’t push.

 Meeting and greeting

  • Make it about connecting with the person rather than the hand-shaking ritual. 

 When you don’t understand what they’re saying 

  • Admit you don’t understand, but affirm that you want to.
  • Ask them to repeat.
  • If needed, go to another form of communication, like writing or texting.

 Phrases to avoid 

  • “I could never do what you do.”
  • “I don’t know how you do it.”
  • “You’re so brave.”
  • “You’re an inspiration to others.”
  •  “You won’t get any special favors from me.”

 Words to avoid 

  • Handicapped, cripple, retarded, slow, sufferer, victim.

 About veterans

  • Don’t assume all veterans want to talk about their experiences during service.
  • Take your cues from each veteran.
  • Gratitude is never wrong.

 Relax, laugh, and listen! 

  • Connect with the person; not the disability.
  • Offer help only after asking or when requested.
  • Take your cues from the person.
  • Treat adults as adults.
  • Be spontaneous.
  • Relax!