Many people feel uncomfortable around a person with special needs because theyre afraid they may say or do the wrong thing, embarrassing or even insulting the person. In its Tips for Disability Awareness literature, The National Easter Seals Society offers excellent advice on talking to people with disabilities:
Speak directly to a person with a disability, rather than through a companion.
Dont be embarrassed if you happen to use accepted, common expressions, such as "See you later" or "Got to be running along" that seem to relate to the persons disability.
To get the attention of a person who has a hearing disability, tap the person on the shoulder or wave your hand. Look directly at the person and speak clearly, slowly and expressively to establish if she can read your lips. Place yourself facing the light source, and keep your hands and food away from your mouth when speaking. Shouting wont help. Written notes will.
When talking with a person in a wheelchair for more than a few minutes, place yourself at the persons eye level to spare both of you a stiff neck.
When greeting a person with severe vision loss, always identify yourself and others who may be with you. Say, for example, "On my right is Penelope Potts." When conversing in a group, give vocal cues, such as identifying the person to whom you are speaking. Speak in a normal tone of voice, indicate when you move from one place to another, and let it be known when the conversation is ending.
Give whole, unhurried attention when talking to a person who has difficulty speaking. Keep your manner encouraging, rather than correcting. Be patient; try not to speak for the person. When necessary, ask short questions that require short answers or a nod or shake of the head. Never pretend to understand if you are having difficulty doing so. Repeat what you understand. The persons reaction will clue you in and guide you to understanding.
Put people first, not their disability - Say "person with a disability," "visitor who is deaf," or visitor who uses a wheelchair. Also see: People First Language.
Avoid identifying a group of people as a disability category - Say "scientists who are blind," or "people with disabilities" instead of "the blind" or "the disabled."
Remember to distinguish between "disabilities" and "handicaps" - A "disability" applies to a person. A "handicap" describes a barrier in the environment or to facilities such as handicap-accessible bathrooms, parking spaces, and building entrances.