Disability Awareness


Including and interacting with individuals with disabilities in the workforce can be confusing, especially for people who don’t have a personal connection to a person with a disability. Disability inclusion efforts can include etiquette training that teaches how to respectfully interact with individuals with disabilities or awareness initiatives communicating that disability is a natural and normal part of the human experience.

States can lead the way in promoting disability inclusion both within their own state agencies as well as to the wider public through disability and etiquette training and the adoption of “people first” language in legislation, regulations and guidance. States initiatives should focus on disability awareness of all types of disabilities, including visible and non-obvious disabilities.


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New Jersey

SJR 96

New York


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New Jersey
SJR 96

New York

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Work Matters: A Framework for States on Workforce Development for People with Disabilities identifies strategies many states are adopting that facilitate disability awareness and etiquette states can:

      • Implement training programs for use by state agencies and private sector employers
      • Adopt disability etiquette policies and “people first” terminology in all public policy



Many states have established Governor’s Committees on Employment of People with Disabilities. Most of these Governor’s Committees provide technical assistance to state agencies and private sector employers on how to provide equal employment opportunity for individuals with disabilities. See more examples of state training options in the Work Matters Framework.

Title I of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, specifies that state vocational rehabilitation agencies must describe in their state plan how they will work with and support  employers to enhance employment opportunities for qualified individuals with disabilities. Strategies adopted by VR agencies include:

      • Increasing work-based learning opportunities, on-the-job training, internships and apprenticeships
      • Working with employers to assist in their recruitment and interview process for applicants with disabilities through the utilization of a resource called Talent Acquisition Portal (TAP). TAP collaborates with businesses to assist them in finding candidates with disabilities and connecting them with available job openings.
      • Working with employers to ensure they have the knowledge and expertise necessary to fulfill their obligation to provide necessary workplace accommodations and rehabilitation technology.

Examples in Action

Massachusetts, Ohio, Minnesota, Missouri, and  Illinois have enacted legislation that provide technical assistance in disability training to public and private sector employees.


All staff in Massachusetts state agencies must attend two levels of awareness training. The first involves diversity awareness and is completed in the first sixth months of employment, and the second — disability awareness — is completed within the first year of employment.


In April 2019, Governor Walz of Minnesota issued two executive orders. EO 19-15: Providing for Increased State Employment of Individuals with Disabilities directed the creation of a plan for accessible training programs for agency hiring managers and supervisors, human resources personnel, Affirmative Action Officers and ADA Coordinators. EO 19-14: Providing for State Agency Coordination of the Americans with Disabilities Act ordered training and technical assistance for agency managers and supervisors on interviewing, accessing information on state disability resources and more.


In 2019, Illinois enacted legislation (SB1136 ) that requires each state agency to send at least one hiring manager each year to training about hiring people with disabilities.

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Table of Contents: Recruitment Etiquette | Interview Etiquette | Workplace Etiquette  

According to the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN), a basic understanding of disability etiquette can help make employees feel more comfortable when interacting with coworkers and supervisors with disabilities and can help prevent awkward situations. Good disability etiquette can also expand business opportunities and help organizations serve customers more effectively.

Disability etiquette refers to respectful communication and interaction with people who have disabilities.  The principles of disability etiquette are fairly simple. Most importantly, rely on common sense to guide your interactions with people with disabilities and behave in the same courteous and respectful way with individuals with disabilities that you would with anyone. See more examples of state training options in the Work Matters Framework. 

Beyond that, everyone can take several simple to ensure appropriate disability etiquette:

      • Use “ An example is utilizing language like “individual with a disability”, rather than “disabled.” Learn more
      • Don’t ask questions about a person’s disability unless it is brought up by the individual.
      • If you offer assistance, wait until the offer is accepted then listen to or ask for instructions.
      • Speak directly to the person.
      • Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you are unsure of what to do.
      • When introduced to a person with a disability, it is appropriate to offer to shake hands. People with limited hand use or who have artificial limbs can usually shake hands. (Shaking hands with the left hand is also an acceptable greeting.)
      • Treat adults as adults. Address people who have disabilities by their first names only when extending the same familiarity to all others.

A number of resources can assist employers to educate employees about disability etiquette, and brushing up on their own skills. These include a variety of disability etiquette resources from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) as well as its training module, which is titled Disability Awareness to Increase Your Comfort, Confidence and Competence.

The disability resources developed by JAN include a focus on recruitment etiquette, interview etiquette, new employee etiquette and workplace etiquette (relating to mobility, sensory, cognitive and psychiatric impairments).

Recruitment Etiquette

People with disabilities continue to be the most unemployed and underemployed population in the United States. They represent an untapped labor pool offering valuable skills, qualifications and assets for employers. Several recruitment strategies can increase an organization’s access to potential applicants.

      • Post job openings with local disability organizations and college and university career centers. Advertise vacancies within disability-related publications, websites and job fairs.
      • Include details about the job location in all postings and highlight accessible features of the location, if appropriate.
      • Indicate the availability of flexible working conditions, including telecommuting or flexible scheduling.
      • Only include qualifications in job postings that are actually required for the available position. Require equal qualifications of all job applicants, regardless of disability.
      • Advertise the organization as an equal opportunity employer.
      • Establish internship and mentoring programs targeted towards youth with disabilities.

Interview Etiquette

Scheduling the Interview

      • Let applicants know accommodations can be provided upon request and who to contact for more information.
      • Schedule interviews at an accessible location. If the workplace is inaccessible, be prepared to conduct the interview at an alternate accessible location.
      • Be familiar with travel directions to the interview location, including the path of travel into the building.
      • Notify applicants in advance with the names of all interview participants.
      • Be aware that an applicant with a disability may need to arrange for transportation following the interview. Provide the applicant with an estimate of interview duration and expected end time, if requested.

Greeting the Interviewee

      • Be aware of the interview location’s accessible features including restrooms, drinking fountains and telephones.
      • Use a normal tone of voice when welcoming the interviewee. Only raise your voice upon request.
      • Call interviewees by their first name only when extending similar familiarity to other interviewees.
      • Always introduce yourself and other interview participants. Offer to shake hands, if appropriate.
      • Speak directly to the interviewee instead of any companion, personal attendant or interpreter when greeting the person for the interview.


      • Always ask similar questions of all interviewees, regardless of disability. Conduct the interview emphasizing abilities, achievements and interviewee qualities.
      • Treat all interviewees with respect.
      • Select an interview location with adequate lighting.
      • Speak directly to the interviewee instead of any companion, personal attendant or interpreter throughout the meeting. 

New Employee Etiquette

      • Review physical features of the work environment. If any create potential barriers for new employees with disabilities, make adjustments as necessary.
      • Identify assistive technologies available to increase workplace accessibility.
      • Provide alternate formats (e.g., large print, Braille) of all necessary work-related documents, including benefits information, employee manuals and policies and professional development materials, as needed.
      • Prepare co-workers and supervisors for the arrival of a new employee with a disability when appropriate. This preparation can include training and orientation to disability-specific issues. Such training should not be used to single-out the person with the disability. An overall disability awareness initiative is best.
      • Remember to include employees with disabilities in emergency evacuation planning and procedures.

Workplace Etiquette: Mobility, Sensory, Cognitive and Psychiatric Impairments

The following etiquette tips address a wide range of workplace situations involving employees with motor or mobility impairments, sensory impairments and cognitive or psychiatric impairments. This publication is not a comprehensive guide to disability etiquette in the workplace. For more information about disability etiquette, see the resources listed at the end of this document.

Individuals with Mobility Impairments

      • Do not make assumptions about limitations based on appearance or the use of assistive devices. For example, individuals who use mobility aids such as canes, walkers or wheelchairs have varying limitations and may use a mobility aid regularly or only as required by their limitations on a daily basis. Also, people who appear to be mobile may require accommodations such as accessible parking because they are unable to walk long distances due to a medical impairment (e.g., a person with asthma or a heart condition).
      • Do not touch or lean on a wheelchair, move a person’s walker or cane without being asked or pet or distract a service animal without first asking permission of the individual with the disability. A wheelchair, mobility aid, or service animal is part of an individual’s personal space and an extension of that individual.
      • Be aware of the worksite and its accessible and inaccessible elements. Upon hiring a person who has an obvious mobility impairment, offer to provide a tour and evaluate the worksite for accessibility.
      • Make workplace accessibility changes according to the specific work-related needs of the employee (e.g., making workspace modifications, keeping paths clear and positioning items at appropriate reach heights, etc.).
      • Keep disability etiquette in mind when planning work-related social events or training opportunities. Host events at accessible locations and design activities that include all employees.
      • Ask whether a person needs assistance before you help. Extend the same courtesies to individuals with disabilities as you would others. Do not be afraid to ask how you can help.
      • Sit down when speaking for more than a few minutes with a person who uses a wheelchair so you are at eye level.
      • Be careful about the language you use. For example, people who use wheelchairs or scooters are not confined or bound to them. The wheelchair enables the person to get where he/she needs to go. It does not confine the person.

Individuals with Vision Impairments

      • Be familiar with the route of travel to the interview location. Provide descriptive directions that do not require the person to rely on visual references. When appropriate, note if Braille signage is posted on walls and doors.
      • Verbally greet and identify yourself before extending your hand to greet a person who is blind. Use the same courtesy when entering or leaving a room, or saying goodbye when ending a conversation. Do not just walk away when talking with a person who is blind or visually impaired.
      • Offer your arm instead of taking the arm of a person who is blind or visually impaired when guiding the person. As you walk, tell the person where you are going, make note of steps or slopes, and point-out opening doors or other obstacles.
      • Offer new employees a guided tour of the workplace.
      • Do not pet or distract a guide dog. When walking along-side someone who is using a guide dog, walk on the side opposite the animal.
      • Offer to read written information, when appropriate, during an interview or on the job.
      • Inform employees who are blind or visually impaired of structural changes or hazards they may need to be aware of in the event of new construction or workplace modifications.
      • Provide work-related materials, such as employee handbooks or benefits information, in an accessible format (e.g., large print, Braille, or accessible web page accessed with a screen reader).

Individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

      • Be aware that individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing communicate in various ways. Pay attention to cues such as whether the person uses sign language, is reading lips, writing or gesturing. Do not be afraid say that you do not understand if you have trouble understanding the person’s speech. It is better to find another way to communicate, such as through writing notes, than to pretend to understand.
      • Do not put hands in front of your face, or food or other items in your mouth when communicating with someone who is reading lips. Also, do not turn your head or walk away while talking. When possible, speak in a well-lit room that is free from background noises.
      • Maintain eye contact and direct your communication to the person who is deaf when using a sign-language interpreter.
      • Speak using a normal tone of voice unless asked to raise your voice, and rephrase rather than repeat the same words if you are not understood.
      • Take turns when talking during a meeting so the person who is deaf or hard of hearing can read lips if they are able to.
      • Get the attention of a person who is deaf or hard of hearing before you start speaking by waving your hand, tapping him or her on the shoulder, or through some other appropriate gesture.
      • Talk with individuals about their preferred method of communication for job training or complex work-related situations. When appropriate, provide a qualified sign-language interpreter, CART service or training videos that are captioned.
      • Remember to include employees who are deaf or hard of hearing in casual conversation and social events. Provide a sign-language interpreter for employer-sponsored social events, when appropriate.

Individuals with Speech Impairments

      • Be patient and listen. Do not complete words or sentences for individuals. Do not be afraid to say you do not understand. Ask them to repeat and then listen carefully. Repeat what you heard to verify, or ask them to write it down.
      • Be attentive in your mannerisms by maintaining conversational eye contact and focusing on the content of communication rather than the delivery of the communication.
      • Relax and communicate as you would normally.
      • Provide interview questions in advance, if possible, to allow the individual time to prepare and deliver responses effectively.
      • Consider offering a personal interview as an alternative to a phone interview for people who stutter.

Individuals with Respiratory Impairments or Chemical Sensitivities

      • Be aware that products that are commonly used in the workplace (e.g., air fresheners, cleaning products, markers) can trigger a reaction for someone who has a respiratory or chemical sensitivity. Use less toxic products when possible.
      • Encourage employees to use fragrance-free products and discontinue wearing fragrances and colognes in the workplace. Do not wear fragrances and colognes when interviewing new employees. Fragrances, colognes and fragranced personal products can make some people very ill.
      • Make a commitment to maintaining good ventilation and indoor air quality. This can benefit all employees.
      • Do not make assumptions based upon appearance. For example, people with asthma may not appear to be limited, but may need accessible parking because they are not able to walk long distances or be in the cold or humidity for long periods of time.

Individuals with Psychiatric Impairments

      • Avoid stereotypes and assumptions about individuals and how they may interact with others. In most cases, it will not be obvious that someone has a psychiatric impairment.
      • Recognize and respect the differences in people. People with psychiatric impairments may behave differently than other individuals, may have trouble interpreting social cues or may have different ways of coping with their impairment.
      • Respect personal space and do not touch the individual or his personal belongings.
      • Provide support and assistance as appropriate.
      • Be patient. Allow the individual time to think and answer questions independently.

Individuals with Cognitive Impairments

      • Do not assume that because someone has a cognitive impairment, such as a learning disability, that he or she has below-average intelligence. The individual may have above-average intelligence, but may have difficulty receiving, expressing, or processing information.
      • Ask if the person prefers verbal, written, or hands-on instruction, or a combination of methods in training and work-related situations. For example, if providing verbal instructions, it may be helpful to follow up with an email that clarifies your request.
      • Treat the individual as an adult. Speak directly to the individual, rather than his or her companion, and use words and phrases according to his or her level of complexity.
      • Be patient. Allow the individual time to think and answer questions independently.

Examples in Action

A number of states, including Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Indiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Wyoming, have enacted “people first” legislation to change statutory language related to outdated or insensitive terminology referring to people with disabilities. Some states, including, Louisiana, Mississippi, Rhode Island and Texas, have enacted legislation outlining a legislative intent for terminology use in bill language, with the legislation sometimes authorizing a state authority to update and conform existing statutes and regulations to the terminology guidance found in the bill.

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