Ms. Rose

ADA Compliance

ADA Etiquette and Appropriate Terminology

By Clara Rose, President & Creative Director, Creative Alliance

Disability is one small fact about a person with different abilities, just like having red or black hair, green or blue eyes or wearing glasses. Looking beyond the disability, one will see an individual whose life is more similar to theirs than it is different. Discrimination - especially subtle discrimination - continues to thrive. It is everyday stereotypes and assumptions about our differences that are the basis for most discrimination. It is probable that many of these acts are not committed with malice but are the result of a lack of education about proper terminology and etiquette.

The language one uses when talking to or about a person with different abilities, conveys how they feel about disabilities. Behavior and actions will not be interpreted differently by an individual with a disability. Personal attention and proximity are universal messages.

Looking beyond the disability, one will see an individual whose life is more similar to theirs than it is different. Disability is one small fact about a person with different abilities, just like having red or black hair, green or blue eyes or wearing glasses.

Dignity Issues

We all have the same basic needs; a drink of water when thirsty, the restroom or the use of a telephone and the same desire for enjoyment and participation. All hospitality employees should be aware of the location of ADA amenities and services that are available for guests with different abilities.

The individual with a disability can sense if the other person is comfortable in their presence; is focused on them, not the disability and is willing to extend to the same courtesies that they would extend to those who are not disabled.

It is noteworthy that many of the accommodation complaints filed with the Department of Justice, mention how the person felt or was made to feel.

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel" - Maya Angelou

An individual with a disability wants the same respect and dignity that would be offered to any other person. Contrary to popular belief, people with disabilities want and expect equal treatment, not special treatment.

Service Animals

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA); A service animal is any animal that has been individually trained to provide assistance or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a physical or mental disability which substantially limits one or more major life functions. These activities include: working, walking, sight, hearing, speech and self care.

The most familiar service animal is a guide dog, used by the visually impaired but service animals are assisting persons who have other disabilities as well. Miniature horses are another example of a service animal; obviously they have special accommodation needs that not all facilities can meet.

Although they are not covered by the regulations, animals that are considered comfort animals can come in all shapes, sizes and types. Companies should have a written policy about these animals to avoid issues involving unequal treatment and potential litigation.

The civil rights of persons with disabilities, to be accompanied by their service animals in all places of public and housing accommodations, is protected by Federal law.

There are a few simple rules when it comes to service animal etiquette.

  • Ask permission before you talk to or touch a service animal.
  • Loud noises and other distractions may interfere with the animal doing its job.
  • Ask permission before you offer food or treats to the animal, it might disrupt their schedule or they might have allergies.
  • It is not appropriate to ask what the service animal does for the person. Some services are obvious but this is a privacy issue and should not be discussed unless the owner brings up the subject.
  • There is probably a close bond between the animal and owner but keep in mind that the animal is not a pet and it has a job to do.

Reception and Greeting

Reservation and reception is the first contact and opportunity to create a memorable experience for the guest. A bad experience at this point could result in a permanent loss for the company, as the potential guest may not be comfortable trying again.

Employees should use common sense when dealing with guests that have different abilities; a basic understanding of their needs will help facilitate this. Unfortunately, a lack of common sense is not a valid argument when it comes to litigation; documented employee trainings and written policies are the best defense.

Here are some common sense tips that warrant attention:

  • Extend the same greeting to individuals with disabilities that would be extended to other guests. An obvious physical disability does not indicate a mental disability is present as well. Talking down to someone can be very offensive.

  • Give the same amount of eye contact to an individual with a disability as you would any other guest, even if the individual has a visual impairment. Voice projections sound different coming from different angles.

  • Talk to the individual, not to an interpreter or family member when conducting business. Remember an interpreter is there to assist the individual in conveying their wants, need and desires; they are a tool to facilitate good communication.

  • It is a common courtesy to obtain an equal eye level with the individual, if possible, for longer conversations. A guest that uses a wheelchair for mobility will appreciate doing business at the same eye level.

  • Many hearing impaired individuals can read lips; speak normally without exaggerating your words and use normal facial expressions:

• Chewing gum or eating will distort normal lip movements making it more difficult to read lips, facial hair can also be an issue.
• There is no need to shout or raise your voice for the hearing impaired unless requested to do so.
• Shouting distorts sounds accepted through hearing aids and inhibits lip reading.

  • When shaking hands with other individuals in a group, be sure to include those with different abilities:

• It is appropriate to touch the arm or hand, in place of a hand shake, of individuals who cannot raise a hand in greeting.
• Shaking left handed is perfectly acceptable if that is the hand extended in greeting or if the right hand cannot be used for obvious reasons.
• You might shake hands with the visually impaired, or with those who have short arms or use a prosthetic. • It is common courtesy to shake whatever is extended in greeting.

  • It is perfectly acceptable to offer assistance to an individual. If they except, the employee should ask how they can be of assistance.

People First Communication

A person's self-image is strongly tied to the words used by others to describe them. Communication is the foundation of interaction in daily life, it is important to be aware of how visual and verbal communications are perceived. When communicating with a person that has a disability, the same rules of acceptable conduct apply… only the means of communicating may differ.

An individual with a disability is living their life, they have just made some adjustments for any limitations they have.

How we say something is as important as what we say. Preferred ADA friendly terms reflect a positive attitude in portraying disabilities and those individuals with disabilities. Avoid using terms or phrases that are offensive or derogatory. Remember, the individual is a person that just happens to have a disability.

These terms refer to conditions, not people. Compassion is the word of the day when it comes to terminology.

• Disability / Disabled
• Physically Disabled
• Blind / Visually Impaired
• Amputation / Amputee
• Developmental Disability
• Spinal Cord Injury
• Spina Bifida
• Paraplegic / Quadriplegic

Some terms are unacceptable and should be avoided when referring to people with disabilities because the terms have negative connotations.

• Handicap / Handicapped
• Cripple / Special
• Victim
• Deaf and Dumb or Mute
• Afflicted With / Suffers From
• Birth Defect
• Spastic / Retarded
• Wheelchair Confined / Bound

People First Language describes what a person HAS, not what a person IS… it puts the person before the disability. Using People First Language can influence society's views and treatment of people with disabilities

Mark Twain said: "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug".

Auxiliary Aids

While auxiliary aids are not etiquette or terminology issues, they play a part in customer service and warrant at least a mention in employee education.

Public accommodations are required to provide the devices or aids necessary to enable persons with visual, hearing or sensory impairments to have full enjoyment of the accommodation. This requirement is flexible and includes the verbiage "but only if this provision will not result in an undue burden on the business", as a protective measure against hardship for a business.

  • Interpreters (by appointment)
  • Taped texts or audio recordings of printed materials
  • Braille materials
  • Large print materials
  • Other methods of making information accessible to the visually impaired.

The goal of this ADA regulation is to facilitate good communication that makes full enjoyment possible for those with different abilities. Interpreters, taped or audio recordings, Braille or large print materials or other methods may be used, a public accommodation may choose among various alternatives as long as the result is effective communication.

Food for Thought

Discrimination - especially subtle discrimination - continues to thrive. It is everyday stereotypes and assumptions about our differences that are the basis for most discrimination. It is probable that many of these acts are not committed with malice but are the result of a lack of education about proper terminology and etiquette.

Common courtesy dictates that all individuals deserve equal treatment, regardless of their abilities. Common sense plus common courtesy will lead to proper etiquette and good customer service.

Clara Rose is the founder of Creative Alliance and co-founder of Nationwide Compliance Alliance. She believes that business success is not accidental, merely the implementation of a sound strategy and the correct tools. Ms. Rose finds great reward in equipping entrepreneurs and business owners with the tools and pieces for business success. As a professional speaker, trainer and author; Clara works with teams to help them create a culture of understanding and sensitivity in the workplace and equips professionals with tools and insights. Additionally, she speaks and writes about the different forms of communication that are an integral part of business life with Customers, Colleagues and Co-workers. Ms. Rose can be contacted at 941-284-8640 or Clara@ClaraRose.com Extended Bio...

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