Church Access for Persons with Disabilities


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Disability Etiquette


How to relate to a person with a disability when you first meet...

How to feel comfortable... Don’t know what to do?


These are just a few thoughts.  There are many others...  if you think of any, let me know.  Don’t think that these suggestions are effective with all people in all situations.  Treat these as a mental starting point. 


The best thing to do when you meet a person with a disability is to say, “hello” or "welcome”, directly to them as you would with anyone.  The person with a disability is a person first.  The disability is just part of them.


It is not impolite to ask, “Can I be of assistance?"  Like anyone, once they feel comfortable they will tell you what they need. 


Don’t be afraid of your fear.  We’ve all been there!  I have no words to help you with your comfort level.  That just comes with time.


In General Groups:


1) People with Visual Disabilities 


·         Identify who you are.

·         Give cues, verbally or by touch.

·         Use clock cues to describe scenes.

·         Use your normal “sighted” language.

·         When speaking to them, face them!

·         Do not assume the person has no visual capabilities.

·         Learn how persons who are blind wished to be guided. 

                      Some people prefer individual methods.


2) People who use a Wheelchair


·         Speak directly to the person who uses the wheelchair…not to the one assisting

·         Involve the person in the conversation

·         Use a chair to hold eye to eye dialogue

·         Ask if help is needed.  Don't assume that they want you to push their chair.            

          The wheelchair is an important personal possession that allows greater freedom.  

          Treat it as something that deserves respect.


3) People with speech difficulties


·         Let the person finish their sentences…. Be patient.

·         Don’t pretend to understand when you do not.

·         They may need to be asked to repeat.

·         Another person may be able to interpret

·         Encourage them to say it another way.  This might be frustrating but the goal here

                  is communication.  That is much more important.


4) People who are D/deaf or have hearing impairments 


Determine if the person is either Deaf or deaf

Deaf:  Has a life-long deafness (Pre-Lingually)

These individuals are culturally deaf…their main form of communication is sign language.   English is a foreign language.  Usually, lack of well-formed speech indicates the person is life long Deaf


deaf:  This is a person who has lost all or a substantial amount of his or her hearing after developing an understanding of English.

Culturally, these people are “in the hearing world.”

Many people who are deaf speak very clearly and people tend to believe that they can hear.


·         Look directly at them

·         For them to read your facial expressions and to read your lips if possible

·         Do not assume that the person understands you

·         Check it out…Say it another way…

·         Look for signals from them.

·         Don’t talk louder…move closer.

·         If using an interpreter look at the person who is D/deaf, not the interpreter.

·         Cue the conversation when the conversation is changing.

·         Be aware of noise.

·         Do not assume that a person who is Deaf will understand printed material.


5) Persons with Cognitive Disabilities


A lot depends on the cognitive level of the person but... in general:

·         Greet/interact with them as you would with anyone else.

·         Don’t baby talk.

·         If necessary, be ready to repeat information about yourself…

·         Treat people equally even if the participation is not equal.

·         There are many ways to participate... all roles have an importance.

·         As a member of the group, the person has the same right to speak as anyone

                     else… Don’t assume they have nothing to contribute…

·         If someone is new to the group remember that a way to express acceptance in a

                     group is to sit near the person.

·         Enjoy the spontaneity of people who have fewer inhibitions…

·         Relax…let people be who they are.


 Click here for information on Services and Ministries for Persons with Disabilities in the Diocese of Cleveland


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Last Update to this page was March 15, 2011

Copyright © 2006 Dennis C. McNulty