Did you know that …

  • When communicating with a deaf person, you should maintain eye contact with them — not their interpreter?
  • If someone enters your office who looks like they have a mobility challenge (e.g., using a wheelchair or a walking cane), you can offer to shake their hand just like you would anyone else?

Understanding disability etiquette is critical for respectful interaction with the millions of disabled persons who are part of the workforce today.

To help our employees better understand the appropriate way to communicate with coworkers who are disabled, Robert Half and Protiviti recently co-sponsored an internal event, Disability Etiquette & Inclusion in the Workplace with Disability:IN, a leading nonprofit resource for business disability inclusion worldwide based in Alexandria, Va. The event was held in support of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, recognized in the United States during October.

Disability Etiquette & Inclusion in the Workplace featured Disability:IN executive vice president of programs, Liz Taub, who has been credited with bringing together the world’s most powerful companies around a shared commitment to building more equitable workplaces. She outlined common courtesies, best practices and language to use and avoid in the workplace.

Taub discussed some of the reasons companies can benefit from hiring and retaining people with disabilities. “Studies have consistently shown that employees with disabilities stay at their jobs longer, improve productivity and morale, enhance problem-solving, and create a more diverse workplace,” she said.

Taub also reminded event participants that some disabilities are not apparent or obvious. “Those include dyslexia, cancer and autism,” she explained.

Here are some of the questions that came up during the event, along with Taub’s responses:

What are some common courtesies and best practices for accommodating employees with disabilities who are attending an event or meeting?

What we have found is that the majority of accommodations — or what we think of as accommodations — tend to benefit everybody. For example, when Starbucks had to change the way their tables were set up to accommodate wheelchairs, the people who gave the most positive feedback were moms with strollers.

Here are some pointers on accommodation:

  • Assess the physical location for accessibility prior to in-person events.
  • Ask all participants, regardless of whether they are in-person or virtual, if any of them need accommodations.
  • When hosting virtual events, ensure the meeting platform is accessible.
  • Describe all visual content when presenting PowerPoint decks.
  • Don’t interrupt because captioners can only caption one person at a time.
  • Share materials in advance and schedule breaks for meetings lasting more than one hour.

How do we stop the stigma around mental illness?

We learn and share the facts.

What are some misconceptions around mental illness?

One example is depression. Some people are surprised that depression is a disability, but it’s actually the number one cause of disability in the workplace. I am a person with depression and PTSD, and I think the COVID-19 pandemic is significantly increasing the cases of depression. The pandemic has created a sense of loneliness, a sense of social isolation, both of which have been linked to poor mental health.

Is the term disability OK to use today?

Yes. Research shows that people with disabilities prefer to be called just that — people with disabilities. In fact, it’s usually people without disabilities who want to change the term to make themselves feel more comfortable. A lot of times, I get pushback on this issue from managers at companies I work with who say, “No, they are special needs. They are uniquely abled. There’s no such thing as a disability.

There is such a thing as a disability. It exists, I can assure you, and part of being an ally is saying the word — being OK with saying word.

To learn more about Disability:IN, visit the organization’s website. Read more about Robert Half’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, including Protiviti’s DEI initiatives.