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Disability Etiquette

When faculty and staff use disability etiquette, students with disabilities feel more welcome and comfortable as a member of the MSU Denver community.

Below is some guidance when interacting with students with disabilities.

  • Just because someone has a disability, don’t assume they need help. If the setting is accessible, people with disabilities can usually get around fine. Students with disabilities want to be treated as independent people. Offer assistance only if the person appears to need it or asks for it.  If the individual does want help, ask how before you act.
  • When talking with an individual with a disability, speak directly to that person rather than through a companion or interpreter.
  • When introduced to a person with a disability, it is appropriate to offer to shake hands. People with limited hand use or who wear an artificial limb can usually shake hands. (Shaking hands with the left hand is an acceptable greeting.)
  • When meeting a person with a visual disability, always identify yourself and others who may be with you. When conversing in a group, remember to identify the person to whom you are speaking.
  • When students with disabilities ask for an approved accommodation from the Access Center, it is not a complaint. It shows they feel comfortable enough in your class to ask for what they need.   If they get a positive response, they will feel welcomed and comfortable in your class.  
  • People with disabilities are the best judge of what they can or cannot do. Don’t make decisions for them about participating in any activity. Depending on the situation, it could be a violation of the ADA to exclude people because of a presumption about their limitations.
  • Use person first language such as "student with a disability" rather than "disabled student".  Also use terms like "accessible parking" instead of "handicapped parking".
  • Listen attentively when you're talking with a person who has difficulty speaking. Be patient and wait for the person to finish, rather than correcting or speaking for the person. If necessary, ask short questions that require short answers, a nod or shake of the head. Never pretend to understand if you are having difficulty doing so. Instead, repeat what you have understood and allow the person to respond. (You may ask them to spell the word if you don't understand them.)
  • When talking to an individual who uses a wheelchair, grab a chair and sit at their level. If that’s not possible, stand at a slight distance, so that they’re not straining their neck to make eye contact with you.
  • If the service counter in your department is too high for a wheelchair user to see over, step around it to provide service.
  • If the person with a visual disability is using a service animal, walk on the side opposite the dog.
  • Avoid the following behavior around a Service Animal or Service Animal in Training
    • Talking, whistling, cooing, or feeding the animal
    • Petting or asking to pet
    • Asking the handler the following questions
      • "What is your disability?"
      • "What is your dog's name?"
      • "Can you show me your dog’s training certification?"
      • "Can you have your dog demonstrate the task he is trained to provide?"
  • Remember that individuals with disabilities have families, jobs, hobbies, likes and dislikes, problems and successes, just like everyone else. While the disability can be an integral part of who they are, it alone does not define them. Don’t make them into disability heroes or victims. Treat them as individuals.

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