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For Employers: This section offers tips on interacting with individuals who have disabilities and making a long-lasting, positive, professional impression.

Etiquette Basics


  • Use person-first language.
    • Instead of “Bob is autistic” or “Marty is wheelchair-bound,” say “Bob has autism” or “Marty uses a wheelchair.”
  • Speak directly to the person, rather than through an interpreter or friend.
  • Make eye contact with the person, regardless of the disability.
  • Ask before you help; the person will request assistance when needed.  
  • Treat people with disabilities just as you would anyone else.
  • Focus on abilities; what a person can do rather than what a person cannot do.
  • Respect the person’s independence; allow them to do what they are able to do. This includes making decisions.
  • Respect the person’s privacy. Some individuals may not be comfortable disclosing their disability.


  • Assume the person’s needs or abilities.
  • Stereotype individuals in light of their disability. A disability does not define a person.
  • Refer to the person as “special needs,” “handicapped,” “suffering,” or “a hero.”

Ability-Specific Tips

The majority of individuals do not have a cognitive disorder, but rather a delay in processing speech



  • Listen patiently.
  • Use clear language and speak slowly.
  • Give extra time to process information.
  • Work in a quiet environment where it is easier to hear.
  • Ask the person to repeat what they said, slower, louder, etc., if needed.
  • Ask the person to write or type what they said if speech is not intelligible.


  • Finish the person’s sentences.
  • Rush the person.
  • Pretend to understand something.



  • Respect personal property.
  • Speak at eye level with the person.
  • Remain aware of their reaching limit.
  • Keep commonly used paths clear of obstruction (trash cans, chairs, boxes).


  • Lean on wheelchairs, hang items on chairs, or push chairs unless asked.



  • Use eye contact.
  • Speak to the person, not to their interpreter.
  • Speak in a normal tone, unless asked to do otherwise.
  • Get their attention by tapping them on the shoulder, flashing the lights, or waving your hands.
  • Individuals with hearing impairment may use a Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD). When communicating, say “Go ahead” to signal to the other person that they may begin speaking.



  • Introduce yourself and others who are present. Identify your role (“I am a recruiter”).
  • Notify the person if you are walking to another area or ending the conversation.
  • Offer the person your arm when walking.
  • Give clear and concise directions.
  • Always ask to pet someone’s service animal. Service animals are not just pets, but a working assistant.


  • Grab someone’s arm; it may result in a loss of balance.
  • Make noises at the service animal.

Prepare the Workplace

  • Prepare ahead for accessibility. Print accessible handouts or arrange furniture to make the area accessible.
  • Expect the same performance of individuals with disabilities. Practice equal treatment.
  • A “one size fits all” approach is not effective when working with individuals who have disabilities. Communicate with your employees to best accommodate their needs.

Other Considerations

  • If an individual is unable to shake hands, it is appropriate to shake their left hand or greet the individual verbally, such as “Nice to meet you.”
  • Be considerate if you have a communicable condition; individuals with autoimmune or respiratory conditions may have lowered immune responses and a simple illness may have serious consequencesAlways cover coughs and sneezes, and keep an appropriate distance when ill.
  • Mental illness is classified as a disability and should not be referred to as “crazy.” Individuals who have mental illness may need low stress environments and specified modifications. 

Service Animals

Etiquette for Guide and Service Dogs (PDF)

Guide dogs are the guiding eyes for people who are blind or visually impaired.  Service dogs are assistance dogs for people with disabilities other than blindness.  These dogs are specially bred and trained for this most important job. There are several guidelines people should follow when in the presence of a guide or service dog to allow for the safety of the dog and its handler.  Disregarding these guidelines can distract the dog, which can create a dangerous situation for the dog and its handler.

It’s also important to know, that under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities are allowed to be accompanied by their guide and service dog in all places the public is permitted. 

  • Please don’t touch, talk, feed or otherwise distract the dog while he is wearing his harness or vest.  You should allow the dog to concentrate and perform for the safety of his handler.
  • Don’t treat the dog as a pet; give him the respect of a working dog.
  • Speak to the handler, not the dog. Some handlers will allow petting, but be sure to ask before doing so.  If allowed, don’t pat the dog on the head, stroke the dog on the shoulder area.
  • You should not give the dog commands; allow the handler to do so.
  • Guide and service dog teams have the right of way.
  • Don’t try to take control in situations unfamiliar to the dog or handler, but please assist the handler upon their request.
  • When walking with a guide or service dog team, you should not walk on the dog’s left side, as it may become distracted or confused.  Ask the handler where you should walk. Depending on the situation, they may ask you to walk ahead of them on their right side, or behind them by their right shoulder.
  • Never attempt to grab or steer the person while the dog is guiding or attempt to hold the dog’s harness. You should ask if the handler needs your assistance and, if so, offer your left arm.
  • Try not to be over-protective or overbearing when the graduate first arrives home with the new dog. Be thoughtful, patient, and try to inspire confidence in the handler. In time, you will admire the expertise of the team.
  • Don’t expect too much too soon, remember, the dog is young and that complete harmony and confidence takes patience, perseverance, and time.
  • Never give the dog table scraps. You should respect the handler’s need to give the dog a balanced diet, and to maintain its good habits.
  • Don’t allow anyone to tease or abuse the dog, allow it to rest undisturbed.
  • Make sure not to allow your pets to challenge or intimidate a guide dog. You should allow them to meet on neutral ground when all parties can be carefully supervised.
  • A guide and service dog should not jump on furniture or go in areas of a home not mutually agreed upon by the family or handler. You can ask the handler to correct any errant behavior or trespassing.
  • Never let the dog out of the house unsupervised, and be sure that all doors and/or gates are closed to prevent the dog from exiting your property. 

Disability etiquette information gathered from https://www.wright.edu/diversity-and-inclusion/disability-services/disability-etiquette-in-the-workplace

More Resources for Disability Etiquette: