People with Disabilities Etiquette

Lynda Roberts, Registrar of Voters, Elections

Guide to Etiquette and Behavior for Working with
People with Disabilities

Show respect to all voters. A person is a person first, the disability comes second. Communicate with the person, not with the person’s attendant, interpreter or companion. Ask before helping.

Voters who are blind or have a visual impairment

Introduce yourself and identify who you are. Offer to assist. Don’t assume person needs assistance or take person’s arm unless you ask first.
Face person while talking
Describe what you are doing as you are doing it
Be descriptive when giving directions: say: “3 steps to your left.” Don’t use visual references such as “go to the booth in the corner”
Allow service animal to accompany voter.
Walk on the opposite side of voter from the service animal.
Don’t interact with service animal without permission from the voter.
Clear obstacles away from voter’s path.

Voters who use wheelchairs

Ask voter if he/she would like assistance. Don’t assume voter needs assistance. Don’t start pushing wheelchair without asking
Speak at same level in which the person is sitting in the wheelchair Don’t stand too close to person. Give him/her some space
When helping voter down a step, ask which way they prefer you to help with this. Do not push open a door using a person’s feet or foot pedals
Treat wheelchair users like you would treat any other voter. Serve voters according to their order in line. Don’t pull wheelchair users out of line or tell them to wait until you are finished serving the other voters.

Voters who are deaf or have a hearing impairment

Face voter at all times. Don’t shout or speak in an exaggerated way.
If person reads lips, speak in a normal way.
Use short sentences.
Don’t block their view of your face
If person has an interpreter, speak to the person, not to the interpreter
Get person’s attention by tapping his/her shoulder or waving your hand in front of them before starting a conversation Don’t become impatient or frustrated if it takes the person longer to communicate
If person doesn’t understand, then rephrase your statement Don’t say: “never mind,” “nothing,” or “it’s not important”
If person uses hearing aids, try to find a quiet place to converse Try not to converse in open, noisy areas

Voters who have speech difficulties

If you don’t understand what the person is saying, tell him/her and ask how you may better communicate. Be patient and calm.
Wait for them to finish their sentences.
Do not pretend to understand when you really do not.
Consider moving to a quiet or private location. Do not interrupt. Do not finish sentences for person.
Consider writing as an alternative way to communicate
Consider asking if there is someone who can interpret what the person is saying. Don’t become impatient or frustrated with person.

Voters with developmental disabilities

Use short sentences. Speak in concrete terms. Communicate with person, not attendant. Do not give abstract instructions or speak in long sentences.
Complete one step of instructions before going to the next step. Do not become impatient if person doesn’t understand your directions.
Show how things should be done. Explain what you are doing as you are doing it. Do not question person’s competence to vote.
Speak in a normal voice. Do not use terms that describe level of disability such as low or high functioning.

Preferred terms and expressions when describing a person with a disability. The person comes first, the disability is second. Use words below after saying, “person who has/is…. Blind. Deaf/hard of hearing. Has mental retardation. Has a psychiatric disability. Uses a wheelchair. Is paraplegic. Has cerebral palsy. Is visually impaired. Has seizures. Has a developmental disability

Watch your language….

Mr. Lee is a teacher with a disability. He uses a wheelchair Mr. Lee is handicapped/crippled and is confined to a wheelchair

Based on, Guide to Etiquette and Behavior for Working with People with Disabilities, from the Montana Advocacy Program, Nov. 2006, and Poll Worker Training Standards from the California Secretary of State, 2010.

Rev. 1/2014