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The next four pages are titled Interacting with Persons with Disabilities, reprinted with permission from a fact sheet prepared by the Hawaii Disability and Communication Access Board.

General etiquette

People with disabilities prefer that you focus on their abilities, not their disabilities.  Always emphasize the person first.  Avoid the terms “handicapped,” “physically challenged,” and other similar references.  The preferred usage is “people with disabilities” or “persons with disabilities.”  The term “disabled people,” although used, may be offensive because this term defines people as disabled first and people second.  Language is powerful, but attitudes and behaviors are the most difficult barriers for people with disabilities to overcome. 

Be Yourself

Treat people with disabilities with the same respect and consideration that you have for everyone else.  Treat each person as an individual, not as a disability.    Engage in small talk, the way you would with anyone.  Use a normal voice when extending a verbal welcome.  Don’t raise your voice unless requested.  As in any new situation, everyone will be more comfortable if you relax.


Don’t automatically give assistance.  Ask first if the person wants help.  Follow the person’s cues and ask if you’re not sure.  Assistance with doors, as long as you’re clear of the path, is usually very much appreciated.  If your offer of assistance is accepted, listen or ask for instructions.  Don’t be offended if someone refuses your offer.  It’s his or her choice to be as independent as possible.


People are considered to have communication disabilities when their ability to receive, express, or process information is limited.

Talk directly to the person, not to an aide or interpreter.  It’s important to make eye contact.  If you don’t understand someone, ask the person to repeat.  If the person doesn’t understand you when you speak, try again.  Sometimes it takes several attempts at listening or speaking for communication to be successful.  Let the person know that your communication with him or her is worthwhile to you.  When appropriate, offer to make public information available in alternate formats such as Braille, audiotape, large print, or Web pages.

Interacting with Persons with Disabilities

The article on this page and the following three pages have been adapted, with permission, from a fact sheet entitled  Interacting with Persons with Disabilities prepared by the Disability and Communication Access Board [DCAB] of the State of Hawaii.

The DCAB is the most distant of all the Access Recreation committee members.


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