For Students with Disabilities

After only 30 seconds of meeting someone, a long-lasting impression is created. Practicing appropriate etiquette and behavior will reinforce your value in the workplace.

Professional Guidelines

DO:

  • Maintain eye contact, speak clearly, and shake hands or verbally greet the employer.
  • Focus on abilities: emphasize what you can do, rather than what you cannot do.
  • Educate others about what you are able to do and what accommodations are the most effective.
  • Self-advocate for your needs.
  • Perform at your highest level. Employers should expect the same level of performance from you as another employee.
  • Realize that the more comfortable you are discussing your disability, the more comfortable your employer and coworkers will be.

DO NOT:

  • Assume that an employer knows what you need to best perform your duties.

Disclosing Your Disability

DO:

  • Introduce yourself, your disability and how you will perform the job.  Explain this to the employer, as they may have no experience supervising or interviewing people with disabilities.
  • Give the employer permission to ask questions about your disability as it relates to the job (Your medical history is confidential under the HIPAA Privacy Rule).

Disability-Specific Considerations

Speech

DO:

  • Speak as clearly as possible
  • Practice clear articulation.  
  • Take your time speaking.
  • Give the other person permission to ask you to repeat what you've said.
  • Repeat words until your employer understands.
  • Use written words or communication device if necessary.
  • Work in a quiet environment.

Individuals Using a Wheelchair

DO:

  • Make sure your chair is clean.
  • Call an employment site in advance to make sure the environment is accessible. If it is not accessible, state the accommodations that may be needed.

DO NOT:

  • Carry multiple bags or coats on your chair.
  • Place stickers on your chair. If you must use tape, get black duct tape.

Hearing/Vision Impairment

DO:

  • Communicate with employers in advance about the accommodations you need in the workplace .
  • Inform employers if you need them to speak louder or quieter.

Workplace Etiquette

DO:

  • Dress appropriately.
  • Keep personal conversations to a minimum.
  • Remain punctual. Give yourself plenty of time to arrive to work and get settled.
  • Be mindful of break length.
  • Keep your work area tidy.
  • Be careful with spelling, grammar, content, and humor in an email.
  • Respect others’ privacy and ownership (knock before entering another’s office, not barging in another’s cubicle, etc.)
  • Speak quietly in a work setting to avoid distracting others.
  • Use polite and courteous language; absolutely no profanity

DO NOT:

  • Gossip in the work place. Ask yourself, “Would I mind if what I am saying is posted on a billboard?” If not, do not say it at work.
  • Use cell phone or other electronics, unless it is work-related.
  • Eat food with strong odors at your desk.

For Employers

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

Etiquette Basics

DO:

  • 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.

DO NOT:

  • 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

Speech & Cognitive

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

DO:

  • 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.

DO NOT:

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

Individuals Using a Wheelchair

DO:

  • 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).

DO NOT:

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

Hearing Impairment

DO:

  • 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.

Vision Impairment

DO:

  • 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.

DO NOT:

  • 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 consequences. Always 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.