5 Etiquette Rules For Interacting With Persons With Disabilities

One billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability, according to the World Health Organization. Despite this large number, there are still many able-bodied people who do not know how to properly act towards persons with disabilities (PWDs). They stare, use the wrong words to refer to the disabled person, or even make insensitive jokes. “Most of the time, these are not done intentionally,” says Ed Geronia, a writer, technology entrepreneur, and who has a mobility impairment due to polio. “People just don’t know any better because there is still a lack of awareness about the situation of PWDs, they only know about disabilities from what they see in the media.”

““When in doubt, it’s always okay to ask a PWD ‘What should I call you?’ or ‘What’s the proper way to refer to you?’”

Ed Geronia, Writer, Technology Entrepreneur

It’s important that able-bodied people learn how to interact with PWDs properly so that they will not inadvertently hurt or offend them. Treating someone differently based on their appearance or a certain characteristic is a form of discrimination, and targets of discrimination often suffer effects ranging from low self-esteem to a higher risk of developing stress-related disorders such as anxiety and depression. “At my age, I can brush off jokes and not be as easily offended, but it can be harder for younger PWDs,” points out Ed. “They internalize these hurtful words and actions and those make it harder for them to adapt to society.” 

If a loved one with a disability is struggling with mental health challenges because of the way they are treated by others, our psychologists are available 24/7 for teletherapy sessions. Book a session now through

Ed shares some tips below for properly interacting with people with disabilities.

  1. Never assume what a PWD can or cannot do. “Don’t think that someone who cannot go up or down a flight of stairs,” says Ed. “I can be just as adept as an able-bodied person as long as I have my cane and there are handrails. Similarly, don’t assume that all deaf people cannot communicate properly; they can, it’s just their mode of communication is different from ours.”

    So if a loved one or colleague is a PWD, learn as much as you can about their disability by joining online resource groups or communities. “When you understand their situation more, you will realize that many of your assumptions are unfounded,” he adds.
  2. Be patient. It takes persons with disabilities a longer time to complete tasks compared to able-bodied people. “The world in general is not very PWD-friendly,” Ed shares. For example, not all countries have audible signal lights to aid the sight-impaired, or wide sidewalks for those who need to use wheelchairs. So if, for example, you are accompanying a person with a  mobility impairment up a flight of stairs, or standing in line at the automated teller machine behind a person with a sight impairment, don’t rush them. Instead, ask what you can do to assist.
  3. Always ask before you help. On more than one occasion, Ed has experienced helpful strangers snatching his cane away from him in their eagerness to assist when they encounter him going up or down the stairs. “I know they’re just trying to help, but when they take my cane away out of the blue, it throws me off-balance and I either trip or fall,” he shares. “I usually have to tell them ‘It’s okay, I can manage.’” 

Another example — when you see someone in a wheelchair going up a ramp and they are steadily ascending, just let them be; don’t suddenly grab the handlebars and start pushing, you will just jolt the person and impact their balance. 

So before you help someone, ask first if they would require assistance, and don’t be offended if your offer is declined.“Many of us are just doing things at our own pace and even though it may seem to you that we are struggling, we are fine and would rather complete the task on our own,” Ed adds.  

  1. Avoid inappropriate language. Commonly accepted terminology includes “people/persons with disabilities” and “a person with a visual/hearing/physical/speech/cognitive impairment.” On the other hand, offensive terms include: wheelchair-bound (use wheelchair-user), victim of, suffers from, retarded, deformed, or crippled. “When in doubt, it’s always okay to ask a PWD ‘What should I call you?’ or ‘What’s the proper way to refer to you?’” Ed assures.

For this same reason, do not describe a person as disabled or handicapped unless it is clearly pertinent to the conversation. Do not say “Do you remember my friend Robert, the deaf lawyer?” Instead, just say “Do you remember my friend Robert, the lawyer?” 

  1. Educate yourself. By learning about the different forms of disabilities, you also learn how you can bring about the necessary changes needed to improve how you interact with them. For those who want to get started, Ed recommends the following books and movies:
  • The Theory of Everything (film). Tells the struggle that world-renowned genius Stephen Hawking went through while dealing with his motor-neurone disease.
  • Crip Camp (film). A critically-acclaimed documentary film about a camp designed for teens with disabilities and how these campers became disability rights activists. 
  • Sound of Metal (film). About a heavy metal drummer who loses his hearing.
  • Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law (book). A memoir by Haben Girma, a disability rights advocate and the first deaf-blind graduate of Harvard Law School.
  • Criptionary (book). A humorous collection that brings attention to the everyday struggles and obstacles faced by persons with disabilities 
  • I See Things Differently: A First Look At Autism (book). Written for kids, it will help them understand what autism is and how it affects someone who has it.

Persons with disabilities are human too. By acknowledging their differences as you would acknowledge anyone else’s uniqueness, you show them the respect and empathy that they deserve and avoid unconsciously offending or hurting them.

Employee Wellness

Enable And Empower: 4 Ways To Make Your Company Inclusive For Persons With Disabilities

In the Asia-Pacific region alone there are 370 million persons with disabilities (PWD), with 238 million of them of working age, according to data from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Hiring people with disabilities increases diversity in the workplace, which has been proven to boost creative thinking, problem-solving, and team morale. 

Unfortunately, people with disabilities commonly experience at work. According to a report by the International Labour Organization, PWDs are often confronted with prejudices regarding their productivity. They also face discrimination at the hiring stage. A survey carried out in France shows that less than 2% of those having mentioned their disability in their CV were called for an interview. 

For Ed Geronia, a journalist, person with mobility impairment, and co-founder and Chief Information Officer of Sari Software Solutions making workplaces welcoming and supportive of the needs of persons with disabilities is a win-win for everyone in the organization. “Everyone benefits from an inclusive workplace, not just those with a disability,” he says. This is because when employees feel a sense of belonging and feel more connected at work, they tend to work harder and smarter, producing higher quality work. 

“PWDs should know that they can earn as much as an able-bodied team member if they are doing the same kind of work.”

Ed Geronia, journalist

Ed recommends some ways companies can make sure that their workplace is disability-inclusive:

  1. Review and refine job roles and processes. Part of this means ensuring that you hire someone based on the job qualifications, not on the basis of their disability. “There’s this notion that people with autism are good at math, so you made it a company policy that you will only hire those in the spectrum for accounting work,” Ed points out. But doing this is a disservice for both the PWD applicant and the other members of the team because you are basing your decision on a stereotype. “People should be hired solely for their capabilities, skills, and talent.”

Furthermore, don’t deny a person a training or promotion just because they are disabled. “Don’t tell someone who is mobility-impaired that you cannot make them manager because you assume they cannot travel to different work sites,” Ed says. “Instead, tell them what the position entails and let them determine if they can do it or not.”

Finally, make sure that your benefits and incentives for employees are the same for all. “PWDs should know that they can earn as much as an able-bodied team member if they are doing the same kind of work,” Ed says.

  1. Partner with community organizations that train persons with disabilities to be ready for employment. In the Philippines, these include:
  • Project Inclusion Network, a non-profit organization that matches PWDs to employers. 
  • IDEA Philippines, which offers vocational training for deaf young people 
  • Microsoft Enabler Program, provides cloud & AI training for PwDs, accessibility education for employer partners, and inclusive hiring from non-profit organizations supporting PwDs.
  1. Have disability awareness and disability sensitivity training. Start by training someone in your human resources department to be a disability advocate. “This way, you have someone in the company who is looking out for the needs of your employees who have disabilities, both visible and invisible,” Ed says. Then move on to the rest of your management team; many might be harboring unconscious biases against people with disabilities and consider these team members inferior. “You have to treat these trainings as investments, because when you know the needs of your employees who are disabled, you can take steps to make things better for them,” he adds.
  2. Adopt best practices from other companies. “In the Philippines, we have to realize that there are still gaps in PWD employment policies,” Ed points out. “Let’s look for companies who are embracing inclusivity and find out what we can copy from them.” 

For example, Philippine-based Lamoiyan Corporation, makers of Hapee Toothpaste, prioritizes hiring deaf employees for factory work. “If it’s just manual, if it’s just using the hands or the eyes, they’re as good as you and me—in fact, they’re more focused because of their handicap,” founder Cecilio Pedro said in a 2016 interview. The company is also supporting three schools for the deaf in the country, where they provide free education for the deaf through sign language.

A disability-inclusive workplace is more than just hiring people with disabilities. It offers employees with disabilities — whether visible or invisible — an equal opportunity to succeed, to learn, to be compensated fairly, and to advance. “Many organizations are already starting to adopt policies on gender equality,” Ed points out. “Why not take it a step further and also include equality for PWDs?” 

MindNation offers virtual trainings on diversity and inclusion so that your organization becomes a safe space for everyone, regardless of their age, gender, race, and physical and mental disabilities. Partner with us to build happier, healthier, and more productive teams. Visit to know more.