happy black woman in wheelchair wheeling down the sidewalk in a red shirt

Disability Awareness Tips to Make Public Environments Inclusive

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, so it’s a good time to discuss how to make the workplace and other public environments more inclusive. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 61 million adults with disabilities are in the United States. Since people with disabilities form such a large segment of the country’s population, being inclusive is good for business and, simply the right thing to do.

Whether your organization is looking to hire or currently employs people with disabilities, or if you serve the general public, some disability awareness and etiquette can go a long way. In fact, you can become part of the solution by doing your part to making our world more inclusive for all.

Use Appropriate Language

The language we use can become habit, and often we underestimate the power of words. Many people with disabilities prefer inclusive language that puts the person first, versus the disability. Examples of person-first language include:

  • a person with a disability
  • a person who uses a wheelchair
  • the individual has a disability

Terms that convey pity such as “handicapped”, “crippled”, “wheelchair-bound”, “suffers from”, and “the disabled” are considered outdated and offensive to some individuals. Others may use these words themselves, but it helps to be sensitive.

Be Aware of the Physical Environmentlong wheelchair ramp

Being ADA-compliant is not enough to qualify a physical environment as inclusive. Careless placement of trash cans and boxes can block wheelchair-accessible entrances or make corridors too narrow for a wheelchair to pass. Common items need to be located where everyone can reach them. For instance, in the workplace, office supplies should be stored where an employee who uses a wheelchair can get them independently.

Ramps are great, but be sure to check thresholds to ensure they’re smooth, and also check electric door openers from time to time to make sure they’re functioning properly.

 

Model Proper Social Interaction

When you’re communicating with an adult with a disability, always address the person with a disability directly. You want to avoid speaking through a caregiver. If your communication is through an interpreter, you should still direct your comments to the person with a disability.

When you meet someone with a disability for the first time, you should offer to shake hands as you would with anyone else. A person who is not able to shake with the right hand may extend the left hand. When a handshake isn’t possible with either hand, a fist bump could be an acceptable substitute. Learn more about greeting someone with limited upper-mobility here.

close up of a fist pound in an office setting

 

When you don’t know someone well, asking questions an individual’s disability is considered poor taste. An individual with a disability wants to be seen as a person, not as a disability. Plus, the details of someone’s disability could be sensitive or difficult to discuss. Respect for other people’s privacy includes the privacy of people with disabilities.

Ask Before Helping

You should never assume that a person with a disability has limitations that require your help without asking first. If you try to help without asking, it’s possible to do more harm than good. For example, suddenly helping a person who is pushing their wheelchair up a ramp can cause them to lose their balance. Or, you could accidentally touch a part of the wheelchair that could

Like most people, a person with a disability values their independence and will usually let you know when he or she needs assistance. 

A good rule of thumb is to help a person with a disability in the same way you would help any other person. If you would open the door for anyone, go ahead and do the same for someone with a disability. And, again, if it looks like someone needs help, but you’re not sure – just ask!

Don’t Touch Service Animals

In public environments, a service animal is there to work. That’s true even if the animal is not wearing a harness that asks you not to pet it. It’s never acceptable to touch or to interact with a service animal without permission. Keep in mind, too, that there are several types of service animals; not just dogs. It’s more rare, but miniature ponies, Capuchin monkeys and even potbelly pigs can assist individuals with disabilities.

service dog sniffing its master who is swimming in a pool

 

Accessible Transportation is an Important Part of Inclusivity

If your organization offers any sort of transportation to the public, even occasionally for specific clients, it’s important that that service is accessible, too. At AMS Vans, we offer a large selection of wheelchair accessible vehicles for purchase and rental (short- and long-term) with nationwide delivery!

To learn more, contact one of our knowledgable mobility specialists at 800-775-8267 or visit us online at www.amsvans.com

Remember the Golden Rule

You can summarize all of these tips with the Golden Rule – treat others the way you want to be treated. As you encounter people with disabilities, just remember they want independence and respect just like you and everyone else.

As public environments become inclusive, individuals with disabilities can be more involved in their communities. That’s a win for everyone!