The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 addresses the needs of individuals with disabilities by prohibiting discrimination in employment, public services, public accommodations, and telecommunications.
Although these laws are implemented in the system, as a leader it’s important to know how to interact appropriately with people with disabilities in the workplace.
Follow these 3 tips to act respectfully with people who may be different from you to promote your understanding.
  1. Be patient and understanding Patience is extremely important to foster a welcoming workplace environment. Avoid asking questions that may be none of your business. Your colleague may not want to discuss their disability. Be understanding of their situation. Your colleague may need more time to complete certain tasks, and want to accomplish projects without assistance. Be patient and avoid using body language that reflects reflects otherwise. Be sure to welcome disabled colleagues warmly, seek them out to shake hands, and initiate conversations about their weekend.
  2. Be mindful of your language When speaking with co-workers, peers, friends, and family members, be mindful of the language you use when referring to disabilities. Avoid negative, inappropriate words that are inflammatory and unnecessary. Not only do these words reflect poorly on you, they instigate workplace animosity. Use positive body language when you speaking with or about disabilities. As a leader, send the tone from the top and be the example others look to when needing a model for behavior. When speaking to someone with a disability, avoid assuming that you know more about the disability. Resist the urge to insert yourself into an existing conversation, not only because this it’s rude, but because it harms your relationship.
  3. Know some disabilities are invisible Not all disabilities are visible. Many conditions are undetectable to the human eye. It is wise to avoid assuming that there isn’t a disability because you can’t observe it. Assuming is often hurtful. A good practice is to use neutral words that wouldn’t be offensive to anyone under any circumstances such as “ What are your thoughts about this project?” or “May I open the door for you?” Act kindly and considerately toward everyone.
Treat people with respect and kindness to foster a welcoming work environment. Make everyday a learning experience by setting a leadership example, educating yourself and your peers.

Sharon Schweitzer and Sunny Kim co-wrote this post. Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is an award-winning entrepreneur, cross-cultural trainer, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE Centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, and Fortune. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business,  Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, (3rd printing), was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.

Sunny Kim is a Fall 2017 Cross-Cultural Communication intern with Access to Culture. She is currently a junior journalism student at the University of Texas at Austin with a minor in Korean language and certificate in business. She is also the founder and president of UT Asian American Journalists Association. Her main focus is storytelling people’s diverse experiences relating to race and culture. Connect with her on Linkedin

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