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FACULTY & STAFF: Etiquette


Insignificant details of behavior and language can be disconcerting to some students with disabilities, as they often imply inaccurate assumptions. The Office of AccessABILITY has compiled the following information which we hope you find useful in your interactions with individuals with disabilities.

Meeting People on Wheelchairs

  • Do shake a person's hand.
  • Do not lean on the wheelchair.
  • Avoid stiff necks! - try to get at a wheelchair user's eye level, that means you might need to kneel down or sit down.
  • Do offer assistance, wait until it is accepted and provide the help in the way the person asks you to - and don't be offended by a refusal. These are independent adults who are used to doing things for themselves.
  • Don't worry about making mistakes - just ask.
  • Talk to the person with disabilities - and not to their assistants.      

Meeting People with a Hearing Loss or Speech Impairment

  • Repeat or rephrase questions/comments from the class before responding.
  • Face the class and speak naturally at a moderate pace.
  • Avoid the temptation to pick up the pace when time is short.
  • Do not speak while writing on the blackboard.
  • Lecture from the front of the room, not pacing around.
  • Point out who is speaking in group discussions.
  • Do not drink or chew gum while lecturing.
  • Do not stand or sit in front of a window where shadows will impede speech/lip reading.
  • Discuss privately, any concerns about the students’ ability to hear.
  • Provide classroom services: write announcements and assignments on the blackboard; write proper names, technical vocabulary, formulas, and unfamiliar/foreign names on the blackboard.
  • Always use captioned films/videos or provide a written manuscript.
  • If giving an orally administered test, please arrange for the deaf/hard of hearing student to have a written copy of the test.
  • Do not shout at Deaf or people with hearing loss; do position yourself in their vision, and attract their attention with a light touch or a wave if you need to.
  • Deaf people may regard American Sign Language (which has a unique grammatical structure) as their first language, not English.
  • Be patient with people with speech impairment; do not correct them; do not finish their sentences; if you don't understand, do not pretend you do, so do ask them to repeat if necessary, and tell them what you have understood so far.

Meeting People with Visual Impairments

  • Tell a visually impaired person who you are; introduce other people who are there and say where they are in the space in reference to the individual.
  • Do not grab a person to guide them - let them take your arm; do ask them if they wish to be warned about steps, doors and other obstacles.
  • Do say clearly where their seat is, or place their hand on its back or arm.
  • You may use a common saying like "see you tomorrow" with a visually impaired person.
  • Remember that a visually impaired person may miss out on gestures or facial expressions and so appear to respond inappropriately - it may seem that they do not get a joke, for example, when in fact it was not properly communicated to them.

Organizing Events

  • Advertise the accessibility of the venue.
  • Consider physical access and space, including seating and space for wheelchair users. Is there room for them to maneuver?
  • Hire a sign-language interpreter and determine the seating arrangement.
  • Consider producing literature in forms other than standard print - large print, Braille and electronic format are examples.
  • When fielding questions from the audience, ask the person answering the question to repeat it so that everybody has heard and the sign language interpreter may interpret the question.

Personal Assistants and Other Support Workers

Personal Assistants: provide practical and personal support, e.g., eating, toileting, and moving about the college.

Sign Language Interpreters: use American Sign Language to convey speech to Deaf individuals.

Note-takers: write notes for students, who are unable to see, hear or write the notes.

Test Proctors: secure the exams and the testing area.

Assistance Dogs: including the Guide Dogs, Hearing Dogs and Support Dogs.

Working with Assistants

  • Do not ask personal assistants questions about the students for whom they work ("does she take sugar?" trap); ask the student with the disability for the information you need.
  • Students with disabilities employ, schedule and manage assistants to provide them with a service. These individuals are employees of the student not the student’s friend.
  • Do look at the student when he/she is speaking to you, even if he/she is using an interpreter.
  • Personal assistants, note takers and interpreters don't participate in the class - but sometimes may inadvertently make comments or respond to questions! Take this participation good naturedly and then try doubly hard to include the student with the disability.
  • Note-takers are in the class only to take notes for the student when the student is present in the class. A note-taker is not a substitute for a student. If a student is not present in the class, the note-takers will not take notes and will leave after 15 minutes if the student does not come to class.
  • All support workers, including dogs, will need somewhere to sit and may need to go to the restroom or to take a break.
  • Do not touch, water or feed guide or support dogs - they are working. These dogs are NOT pets.
  • The work sign language interpreters do is very intense and requires focus and concentration. Therefore, any class more than an hour in length will require two sign language interpreters present.
  • Do not make assumptions - remember that anyone may have a hidden impairment or a medical condition such as diabetes, asthma, emotional disability or sickle cell, to name a few.

Exclusionary Attitudes

It is important to recognize that even when a student is technically accommodated, he or she may be subjected to actions or attitudes that could be construed as exclusionary. Some common yet misguided approaches and beliefs are illustrated in the paragraphs that follow.

"She makes me uncomfortable."

It is very common to want to avoid that which is uncomfortable. People who appear to be different or behave differently sometimes cause us to avoid contact. It is important to understand this discomfort and/or avoidance behavior.

"He can't possibly do that."

Too often people project someone's disability upon themselves and imagine how difficult it would be to function with such a limitation. Instead of making a decision for students about their capabilities, have them explain how such participation is possible.

"I don’t see any disability."

There are many disabilities that are not obvious - learning disabilities, psychiatric conditions and chronic illnesses typically fall into this category. Any condition, which imposes a significant limitation on an individual’s ability to participate in life activity, is considered a disability, and requires compliance with federal law. The Office of AccessABILITY maintains complete documentation from all students who register with us. If there are doubts about the legitimacy of a student's particular disability, please call the Office.

"That poor person."

Most people who have disabilities have stable conditions and are not ill. They have the same aspirations, desires, faults and problems as everyone else. Their disability is something that they have learned to live with, and is only one aspect of their lives.

"Give him a break, he's disabled."

The temptation to overcompensate for a person's disability is one of the biggest problems for faculty members. Giving an unfair advantage to a student with disability is nearly as bad as refusing a legitimate request for an accommodation. It is necessary to use the same standards in evaluating a student's performance. They are entitled to the same feedback, criticism and yes, bad grades as anyone else. By overcompensating you are making life easier in the short term and much more difficult in the long run.

"Just go on and do it for him…It's easier and kinder."

Sometimes it is much easier to do something for students than to allow them to do it for themselves or to wait for them to do it. For students with disabilities however, this approach will likely foster dependency and not allow students to learn critical skills that they will need to be on their own. Be patient, give adequate instructions and let them be independent.


  • Treat students as individuals and put the emphasis on the person not their disabilities. (“Person with a disability” instead of “a Disabled person”).
  • When in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask your students about their needs or what may be helpful to them— they are the experts!

If you should have further questions or concerns, please call the Office of AccessABILITY at (212) 772-4857.


contact us

t: 212.772.4857  |  f: 212.650.3449  |  vp: 646.755.3129
Room 1214B, East Building, 695 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10065