Information provided by the United Spinal Association
Hopefully after this presentation you will
feel more comfortable and less awkward
when dealing with individuals with disabilities. And if you are ever unsure how to
Interact with a person with disabilities,
Terminology – A quick Look
People Who Use Wheelchairs or Other Mobility Devices
People who use wheelchairs have different abilities
and levels of disabilities. Some can use their arms and
legs and some can not. Some may be able to walk short
First and foremost remember that a person in a
wheelchair is an individual and the wheelchair is not
equipment to that person. The wheelchair is a part of
Don’t push or touch a person’s wheelchair – The chair is part of their personal
space. Touching the chair or trying to help without instructions could cause the
person to fall out of the chair, or parts to come loose.
Keep the ramps and wheelchair accessible doors unlocked and unblocked –
According to ADA; signs should mark the entrances, objects should not be blocking
aisles, and boxes and objects should never be kept or stored on ramps.
Be aware of the person’s reach limits – try to keep objects the person will need
well within their reach. When talking to a person in a wheelchair, try to position
yourself at their level whenever possible.
Be sure to mark hallways with signage marking accessible routes.
Always ask before helping – often time your help could be a hindrance. Holding
the arm of a person with a cane or crutch can cause them to lose their balance.
Opening a door from behind could also cause the person to lose their balance.
Arrange for appropriate seating.
Falls can be very dangerous. Take every precaution to warn of wet floors, or place
matting down for security.
For persons with canes of crutches, wall railing would be a welcome addition.
Be prepared to offer a hand when needed, but ask, “can I help you”.
People Who are Blind
People who are blind generally have learned to maneuver in
their everyday situations. There are often very independently
However; in a new surrounding or school, they may require a
very specific walk-through of the facilities. They may use a
guide cane or guide dog. It would be important to make sure
they are provided with the safest routes to their classes
Always identify yourself when making contact with a person that is blind.
Introduce yourself by name and by title. Do not forget to introduce an other
people in the group.
Be sure to provide the person that is blind a tour of the facilities.
If there are physical changes within the facility, be sure to notify the person
that is blind and offer another tour.
People who are blind may need an arm for balance. – Never take the blind
person’s arm to lead them, allow them to take your arm. You can guide the
person’s hand to a banister or back of a chair if needed.
If you are walking with a person with a guide dog, walk on the opposite of
the dog. As you are walking describe the setting including all obstacles.
Describe obstacles in detail. Remember to note any low hanging objects, or
objects protruding from the walls or floors.
Give directions using non-visual cues. In other words; avoid saying, “Walk
down the aisle and turn right at the wall mural”.
If you leave a person that is blind, inform them and ask if they need
anything before you leave.
Never touch the person’s cane or guide dog. The guide dog is working
and the cane is person space.
Offer to read anything the person might need to know, or menus, etc…
When serving a person who is blind, give clock directions. Using the term
your meat is at 12 o’clock will help the person orient themselves to the
plate and food.
A Person with Low Vision:
Good lighting is vital.
Keep walk-ways clear of obstacles
People Who are Deaf or Have a Hearing Loss
American Sign Language (ASL) is entirely
a different language from English.
Different countries have their own signs.
ASL has its own syntax, very different
from English. This is why many students
who are deaf have a hard time with
English courses and writing.
When the information being communicated is specific and complex, and
interpreter is best. For average communication needs, writing back and forth is
Try to use the person’s preferred form of communication (sign, voice, writing).
If you cannot understand the person who is deaf when they voice tell them.
When using an interpreter, look at the person who is deaf. It is more respectful
to look at the person who is deaf.
Always include the person who is deaf in all decisions.
Before speaking to a person who is deaf, make sure to get their attention.
Depending on what the student prefers you can wave your hand, tap their
Rephrase rather than repeat sentences if the person does not
When taking face to face, a well lit and quiet room is best for
communication. Be mindful that lip reading is important to many of
these students. Having a window to your back or any backlighting,
for example, may make it hard for the person to see your face or
Speak clearly and so not hide your mouth.
There is never a need to shout or speak loudly.
People with Cerebral Palsy (CP)
Cerebral is caused by an injury to the central nervous
system. It is a condition that originates from birth
and often due to some type of complication during
People with Cerebral Palsy have a lack of muscle
control and the extent of their condition can vary
People with CP often have slurred speech and uncontrollable muscle
movements. Interact with them as you would anyone else.
People with CP often function normally intellectually, do not pre-judge their
abilities based on speech, mobility, or first impressions.
People with Tourette Syndrome may make
vocalizations and gestures, such as tics which they
cannot control. Unfortunately, some of these
vocalizations and gestures may be offensive in nature.
There is a small percentage of persons with Tourette
Syndrome cannot use medication to manage their
condition. For the small percentage that do have or
make offensive gestures and vocalizations, classroom
cooperation should be obtained.
If a person with Tourette Syndrome has uncontrollable vocalizations, calmly wait for
them to finish and continue the conversation.
Freedom to leave a meeting during these vocalizations might benefit the student.
Often these urges build up and an opportunity to release in a private setting may be
People with Epilepsy or Seizure Disorders
Epilepsy and other seizure disorders are a
neurological condition characterized by seizures that
occur as the electrical system in the brain
malfunctions. Seizures can vary greatly from;
convulsive, mild tremors, inability to speak, trance like
appearance, or sleep walking appearance.
Follow general guidelines to seizure care, and be
aware of what your business and school’s safety
If a person has a seizure there is nothing you can do to stop it.
If the person having a seizure has fallen, make sure their head is protected and
wait for the seizure to run its course.
When the seizure has ended, the person may feel tired, disoriented, and
embarrassed. Try to calm the person and removing others from around the person
is always best.
Be aware that beepers, strobe lights, blinking items can trigger a seizure in some
(At ICC) make sure the Supportive Services Coordinator is aware of the person with
a seizure disorder and that he/she has forwarded you safety information for that
People with Multiple-Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) & Respiratory Disabilities
MCS is a sensitivity to chemicals that can cause
respiratory distress. Respiratory disabilities include;
asthma, emphysema, and other related conditions and
An incident of MCS or respiratory disabilities results
in the individual not being able to breath or catch
Avoid cleaning products while the person with respiratory disabilities is in your
If products must be used, spray or pour the products onto the cleaning cloth and not
into the air.
Try to avoid or eliminate strong smelling perfumes, candles, and lotions.
Maintain good room ventilation.
People with HIV or AIDS
People with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) or
Autoimmune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) have
impaired immune systems, so their bodies have
trouble fighting off infections and disease.
As a reminder, any health condition or disability
should be kept in confidence – but because of the
sensitive nature of HIV and AIDS it is vitally
You cannot catch HIV from casual contact such as shaking hands.
A person with HIV is however in danger of being exposed to germs and virus from
other people. Try to keep the environment healthy.
Because people with HIV or AIDS often feel stigmatized, try to be open and treat
them as you would anyone else.
People with Psychiatric Disabilities or Mental Illness
There is a wide range of disorders and illnesses that
would be considered Psychiatric Disorders or Mental
Illness; including, stress disorders, antisocial
behavior, depression disorders, paranoid
disorders, schizophrenic disorders, etc.
Individuals with psychiatric disabilities and mental
illnesses may have very individual behaviors or
characteristic behaviors based on their illness.
Stress can always aggravate any psychiatric condition, always try to minimalize the
If the person with the mental illness or psychiatric disability tells you of their
condition – research the condition and learn what you can about it.
Contact your Support Services Coordinator for assistance and advise in dealing with
persons with psychiatric disabilities. (Keep in mind the person must give permission
for the Coordinator to discuss their specific condition with you – in most cases the
Coordinator has already obtained this permission from the student.)
In any crisis situation, stay calm, and send for help from the campus police or the
Supportive Service Cooridnator.
People with Learning Disabilities
The category of Learning Disabilities encompasses a
large number of conditions and disorders. A student
can have a Specific Learning Disability (SLD) in
reading comp., reading recog., written expression, oral
expression, math calculation, math reasoning, and
There are specific methods that can be used in
dealing with these students, but here are some
general rules to follow.
Be prepare to give oral instructions or explain written instructions when needed.
Realize that extra time may be needed for written assignments.
Be prepared to provide detailed written instructions if needed.
Be direct and precise with your communication.
Ask the person how they best learn or how they would prefer material presented to
them; written or orally.
Allow assistive devices such as recorders or note-takers.
Understand that a quiet and distraction free environment may be required.
People with Traumatic or Acquired Brain Injury
People with traumatic brain injury (TBI) have some
type of damage to the brain due to an accident or
stroke. This is a growing population due to car
The severity can vary greatly and often the process
of recovery (which may never be fully recovered) is a
Many factors that affect people with learning disabilities also affect people with TBI
There may be mobility losses that are not obvious; for example, a person may can
move their hand but not be able to write or correctly hold a pen or pencil.
A person with TBI may also have issues with impulse control. The person may make
abrupt comments that are offensive and not realize they have offended someone.
The person with TBI may often seem pushy and demanding. They often get frustrating
at not being able to fully get their point across and as a result appear demanding and
A person with TBI is also likely to have short term memory problems.
A person with TBI often has directional or orientation problems.
Be prepared to repeat instructions and commands several times; and ask often if the
The person with TBI is often easily distracted and may even become frustrated or
angry at those distractions.
The person with TBI will most likely have issues with organization and may need
assistance in arranging or organizing their materials.
Asperger’s and Autism Disorders
Asperger’s is merely a syndrome within the autism
spectrum disorders (ASD). Asperger’s is considered
to be on the high functioning end of the spectrum.
Along with Asperger’s and other autism disorders,
there are often associated issues such as; depression,
learning disabilities, or language and speech problems.
The range can be from completely non-verbal and
socially non-functioning to very high level of
functioning. Dealing with these students requires
knowing what behaviors can be expected.
A person with Asperger’s or ASD will like have very limited and/or inappropriate
social interactions. Often time they will have memorized learned responses to
frequently asked questions such as; “how are you today”.
A person with Asperger’s or ASD may appear to have a very robotic or repetitive
They may have rather high verbal skills and vocabulary, but will have problems with
the subtlety of language.
They often have severe problems understand and interpreting facial
expression, gestures, and other non-verbal communication.
Their conversations will most like be centered around themselves without an
understanding of others around them.
Persons with Asperger’s or ASD have problems with non-literal expressions and
They will often have problems understanding social and emotional issues.
They will most likely fail to make any eye contact during a conversation.
They will often become obsessed with a specific topic or subject matter and want to
talk about and read about it constantly. They will try to bring the topic of conversation
back to the subject or topic they are obsessed with like; cats, history, geography.
They may also have some noticeable ticks, mannerisms, and body movements that
are repetitive by nature.
What should you know?
The Office of Supportive Services
The Office of Supportive Services is here to assist you. Within the
boundaries of privacy, OSS can often assist you with students in
Always check with OSS if you have problems.
Cathy McCarthy – Coordinator OSS
Office BE 4 – Fulton Campus
662.862.8173 – email@example.com
Marcus Simmons – Coordinator OSS
Office Student Support Center E 123 – Tupelo Campus
662.620.5314 – firstname.lastname@example.org