More often we are seeing disabled people in working environments. Whether they are bagging our groceries or working behind a desk, they are providing a valuable service whatever that may be. Always show the utmost kindness as they are fellow human beings like us. This should be obvious but unfortunately silly fears can creep in.
Linda Fitzpatrick, founder of The Disability Etiquette Training Company, outlined some good points about the principles of handshakes with people who have disabilities.
1. Always offer to shake hands.
2. Smile, make eye contact and be at eye level.
3. Be sure you have the full attention of the person with whom you wish to shake hands.
4. If a person with a disability is with a companion, shake hands with both people. However, if there is a service animal, do not pet the animal.
5. By necessity, a handshake involves touching, so if the person seems touch averse, be prepared to be extra gentle or to step back. A simple touching of fingers may be enough to convey the customary respect.
6. Take your time and use the opportunity to form a thoughtful connection.
7. Most important, see the person first, not the disability.
These are good foundations for meeting those with a variety of disabilities.
When shaking hands with a person in a wheelchair, bend or find a way to sit so that you can converse eye-to-eye. It can cause neck strain for the person in a wheelchair if they have to look up. My husband is permanently confined to a wheelchair and I know this can bother him. Never touch the wheelchair or rest a foot on the wheels as it’s an extension of their personal space.
A person who is deaf or hard of hearing may not realize that you’ve extended your hand. Give a slight wave or a very gentle tap on the shoulder to gain her attention. People with hearing disabilities often complain about being handled too roughly.
If you are greeting someone who is blind, ask if you can shake their hand and he will be delighted to do so. Depending on where you are, giving simple instructions can be very helpful. For instance, “There’s a table to your left and a chair to the right where you could sit.”
What if the person is an amputee? Please never look shocked…regain composure quickly. Extend your hand and let the person guide you. A small gesturing of touch is an acknowledgement of the other person and shows respect.
Children often have the best attitude. They aren’t fearful and will ask questions. My husband has no issue with a small child asking him why he’s in that wheelchair. He explains that he had a bad sporting accident and tells them to always play safely. Good judgement and kindly manners will always be effective guides.
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