Business Resources and Services from Disability Awareness Author / Speaker Gary Karp

General Workplace Disability Etiquette

No Matter the Disability, Some Things They All Experience

On a daily basis, people with disabilities encounter folks who are nervous around them, not knowing what to say or what to do. They encounter people who, unintentionally, treat them in a patronizing manner. They encounter people who can only see the disability, at least at first.

Mostly, they want to be seen just as the people they are. Whole people, with the same range of interests and desires as anyone else – to be valued in their communities, their families, and in the workplace. They are people first, the number one principle of disability etiquette.

They want the chance to connect with you, free of the nervousness – or just distraction – that their disabilities might evoke for you.

So, some general points of disability etiquette that would apply to anyone with a disability of any kind, visible/invisible, physical, sensory, cognitive, or any of the long list of "others."

  • Ask if you can ask about their disability.A Little More
  • Wheelchairs, canes, and the like are personal space.A Little More
  • Beware of patronizing physical touch.A Little More
  • Save your disability experience stories for later.A Little More
  • Service animals are off limits when they're working.A Little More
  • Given these general points of etiquette, there are some specifics that pertain to particular disabilities. Check out the links below or in the drop-down menu at the top to continue.


    It can be dangerous to disrupt the working bond between a service animal and its master. Yes, the labradors are so tempting!, but wait until they are at rest, and ALWAYS ASK.
    If your first comments are about the two weeks you spent in a wheelchair or that you had an aunt who was blind, then the message you send is that you feel you have to relate primarily to their disability.
    We hug, we touch arms when we are comfortable with each other. People with disabilities often get "patted" on the shoulder (or head!!) in a way that feels like being rewarded for leaving the house!
    A wheelchair doesn't have nerve endings, but the user can feel it if you kick it! Mainly, equipment is an extension of personal space. Think of it as another piece of clothing.
    Of course you're curious, but remember that it's a personal question. Always preserve their choice to answer. Most will want to free you of the curiosity so you can get on with whatever is next in your relationship.