While we may know someone with a disability, many of us have little experience communicating and interacting with people with disabilities. Or at least we think we don’t. We need to remember that about 1 in 5 people have a disability, and that disability may be invisible. Chances are that you have more experience than you think.

We want to welcome a wide range of people to apply to our company, or to be a customer. No one wants to say the wrong thing. We could avoid the situation, but this is a missed opportunity. Many businesses have successfully hired people with disabilities. They suggest a few simple steps to build your comfort level:

When in doubt, ask. It will benefit your bottom line. Most people with disabilities know what tools and accommodations they need to benefit your company. By signing up below you can gain access to a growing pool of talent. 

Not sure about what to say or how to react?

  • Ask people what they need to do their jobs – don’t make assumptions about what people can or cannot do.[5]
  • If it is relevant, you should feel comfortable referencing a person’s disability. For example, “Let’s schedule our meetings in an accessible location because Ali uses a wheelchair.”

Not sure what to do when a person is assisted by an interpreter or uses an aid?

  • When speaking to a person who is accompanied by an aide or an interpreter, you look at and speak directly to the person with the disability.
  • Aids such as wheelchairs, walkers, canes, etc. are considered extensions of the person. Ask permission from the person before moving or touching an aid.
  • Most people like animals, but service animals are ‘on the job’. They are not pets. Like an aid, they are extensions of the individual. Refrain from distracting animials from their job, by petting or interacting with them.

Not sure about what words to use?

  • If you are unsure? Ask the person.
  • Focus on the person, not the disability. We wouldn’t define someone by their height or their hair colour, their body shape, or their eye colour. Don’t define someone by their disability.
  • Use people-first language. Use the word “person” before the word or the name of the “disability” (i.e., a person with epilepsy” vs “epileptic person”).
  • It can be challenging to stay on top of changes in the words we use, but it’s important to use positive and suitable vocabulary. 
  • Every person is unique. And so is every disability. One person may prefer language that is very different from the next person. If you get it wrong, apologize, and ask the person what terminology they would prefer you to use.

Still not sure what words to use?

Still not sure? Here are some examples:

  • In the past, it was common to say that a person “suffers from”. No one enjoys suffering – it’s a negative term. It is more accurate to simply say “a person with”.
  • Handicap parking is an example of a phrase that is rooted in the negative. Try to reframe by using words that promote inclusion – in this case, accessible parking.
  • When in doubt, use words that describe, but are without judgment. For instance, “the person using the wheelchair”.

Join the movement.  Find and keep the best talent – you will see a clear return on your investment.

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