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Think Before You Speak: 4 Things to Avoid Saying to Employees with Disabilities

April 10, 2017

Have you ever been a part of or witnessed an awkward conversation at work? A lot of times these uncomfortable moments occur because someone made an assumption about a situation or person. Working alongside people with disabilities can lead to some awkward small talk if you’re not careful with the assumptions you make.

Here are a few things you may want to avoid saying or doing when communicating with employees with disabilities.

“What happened?”

As curious as you might be about someone’s disability, it’s frowned upon to assume the person is comfortable discussing the matter. Some people might be incredibly open about their disabilities right from the beginning, but it’s best to get acquainted with them before opening up discussion on how their disabilities came about.

Speaking slowly to “accommodate”

A common misconception is that people with disabilities will always require a special form of communication in order to understand. This leads to some people automatically speaking differently, as if to accommodate a perceived disability. Avoid making assumptions—unless a person with a disability asks you to speak more clearly or slowly, just speak to him or her like you would anyone else.

“I don’t think of you as a disabled person.”

This one has some debate behind it, as some perceive it as complimentary and others view it as degrading. While the intentions behind saying it can often be good, especially when it comes to terms like “capable” and “empowered,” the person with a disability might perceive it differently. Avoid mentioning people’s disabilities, and simply compliment them on their quality of work and attitude.

“How do you use the restroom?” (Or other everyday tasks)

It’s not a good idea to ask people with disabilities how they go about using the bathroom. It’s likely to start and end in an awkward exchange. When you ask how they go about performing any type of tasks it can be taken offensively. They can easily perceive it as an assumption they can’t manage such things, and that’s often a misconception.

Stay Involved. Be Social.