Some Do’s and Don’ts when interacting with people with disabilities


  • Use a normal tone of voice when speaking to people with disabilities.
  • Do not raise your voice towards a person with disabilities, unless requested.
  • It is appropriate to offer to shake hands. People with limited hand use or who wear artificial limbs can usually shake hands. Shaking hands with the left hand is also acceptable. If the person cannot shake hands, touch his / her shoulder or arm to welcome and acknowledge their presence.
  • Treat adults as adults. Call the person by his / her name only when extending that familiarity to all others present.
  • Do not patronize people with disabilities by, for instance, patting them on the head or shoulder.
  • Do not lean on a person’s wheelchair; this is part of his / her personal space.
  • Look at and speak directly to the person with a disability, rather than through a companion who may be with them.
  • When offering assistance, do it in a dignified manner with sensitivity and respect. Be prepared to have the offer declined. If the offer is accepted, listen to and accept instructions.
  • Do not proceed to assist if your off to assist is declined.
  • Offer to hold or carry packages in a welcoming manner, do not be offended if the offer is declined.
  • Do not offer to hold or hand a cane or crutches to a person – wait for the request.
  • Set up a system of able-bodied staff assisting people with disabilities in the event of a building evacuation when an emergency occurs.
  • Be prepared for possible resentment from a small minority of people with disabilities when being approached, as they may not have come to terms with their disabilities yet.

HEARING IMPAIRED PEOPLE – General Communication Hints

  • Do not shout at a person with a hearing loss, it is humiliating and distorts the articulation (mouth).
  • Speak clearly and at a slightly slower pace.
  • Do not cover your mouth, chew food or smoke while talking.
  • Use short and simple sentences.
  • Rephrase if you are not understood.
  • Remember, only 6 of the 26 letters of the alphabet can been seen on the speaking lips.
  • Use facial expressions that correspond with what you are saying.
  • Write if necessary.
  • Be patient if the response is slow.
  • Remain positive and relaxed.
  • Talk to the person, not about him / her.
  • Do not be distracted by the person’s flat tone of voice.
  • Show that you care – your attitude can build confidence.
  • Do not change your language in mid-sentence.

Handy Hints

  • Tap gently on the shoulder to get his / her attention.
  • If he / she is beyond your reach, wave your hand in the air until eye contact is established.
  • Switch lights on and off to get attention.
  • Establish a comfortable distance between you and the person involved in the communication.
  • Establish eye contact before beginning to communicate.
  • Keep the face clear of any obstruction, e.g. hair, scarf, etc.
  • Ask a person how he would like to communicate.
  • Avoid background noise.
  • Show that you are attentive by nodding slightly. If you are expressionless it conveys inattentiveness.
  • Ensure that the available light shines on your face when communicating. Do not stand against the light or a window.
  • Do not pass between people who are communicating.
  • Do not look away during the conversation as that denotes termination of communication.
  • Avoid communication with your hands full of objects, e.g. cup, books, etc.
  • Do not eat or chew anything during communication.
  • If an interpreter is present, speak to the person who has scheduled the appointment, not to the interpreter.
  • Pre-plan a system of communication to be used in the event of an emergency evacuation.
  • Be prepared for possible resentment from a small minority of people with disabilities when being approached, as they may not as yet come to terms with their disabilities.


Rather use the term visually impaired than blind as not all visually impaired persons are blind.

Guiding a Blind Person

  • Allow a person with a visual impairment to take your arm (at or about the elbow). This will enable you to guide rather than propel or lead the person.
  • Walk slightly in front of a blind person and offer him / her your arm to enable you to guide him / her.
  • Do not push the blind person in any way.
  • When passing through narrow spaces, bend your arm behind your back to enable the blind person to walk right behind you.
  • If you are helping a blind person into a car, say which way it is facing and place the blind person’s hand on the roof over the open door.
  • Always remember to warn the blind person when you are approaching a flight of stairs or a slope and say whether it goes up or down.
  • To indicate an empty seat, place his / her hand on the arm or back of the chair.
  • Never leave doors half open and never leave things lying around on the floor.
  • Always ask whether the blind person needs assistance (and in which way) before helping.

Handy Hints

  • Do not offer to hand him / her something unless the individual requests you to do so.
  • Be prepared for possible resentment from a small minority of people with disabilities when being approached, as they may not as yet come to terms with their disabilities.
  • Talk to a blind person in a normal tone of voice and do not assume that the person is hard of hearing.
  • Address a blind person directly and not through a third person.
  • Do not be afraid to use the word “see” in phrases like “see you later”. Blind people talk to each other in the same way.
  • Do not refer to a blind person’s blindness openly by word or action in a meeting or other gathering.
  • When speaking to a blind person, always say who you are.
  • Always say goodbye when leaving a room so that the blind is not left speaking to an empty space.
  • When greeting a blind person, wait for him / her to extend his / her hand before shaking it. Say something like “take my hand” as this will prevent uncertainty and embarrassment for both parties.
  • Do not leave a blind person in a strange environment without orientating him / her to it.
  • When in a meeting, read documents to the blind person if a Braille document is not available and allow him / her to comment.
  • Do not distract a blind person’s guide-dog from being his / her active eyes.
  • Do not hesitate to laugh when a blind person tells a joke about his blindness. This is quite common among blind people.
  • Always ask whether the blind person needs assistance, and in which way, before helping.

Information courtesy of the Association for the Physically Disabled – Greater Johannesburg.