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Services for Students with Disabilities

Interacting with People with Disabilities

Students walking across campus

The office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) encourages all community members to be aware of populations of individuals, on and off campus, especially those with disabilities. When encountering someone with a disability, many people feel uncertain on how to communicate or assist an individual. How do I talk to the individual? Should I, or shouldn't I offer to help? What if I say something embarrassing? Below are a few suggestions that may assist you with working with an individual with a disability. Please contact the SSD office by email at or by phone at 559-278-2811 for more information.

  1. First and foremost, a person with a disability is a person. They have the same variety of feelings, attitudes, and behaviors as persons without disabilities. Treat people with disabilities with the same dignity and respect as you treat those without disabilities.
  2. If you are a faculty or staff member interacting with a student, remember that everything relating to their disability, even the fact they have one, is legally confidential. Therefore, do not discuss or mention anything about the student's disability where others can hear, even if you believe the student would not mind.
  3. Not all disabilities can be seen. Don't assume that just because someone doesn't look disabled that they do not need accommodations.
  4. If someone with a disability appears to need assistance, ask if you can help. If they say yes, then ask how and follow their directions. Don't be offended if your help is not needed.
  5. Talk directly to a person with a disability, not to their interpreter, attendant, or other non-disabled people about them. Adults with disabilities are adults and should be treated as such.
  6. A wheelchair is considered part of the user's personal space. Therefore, do not touch or lean on the wheelchair unless asked. Similarly, do not touch or move someone's crutches. If the crutches are in the way, ask the user to move them.
  7. Introduce yourself when approaching a person who is blind. Do not touch them without warning, as this may startle them. If they need guidance, let them take your arm. When leaving, let the person know so they don't continue to talk to empty space.
  8. Do not pet or distract a service animal. The owner's safety may be at risk if the animal is distracted.
  9. It's fine to use phrases like "Have you seen Bob?" with a blind person, "Do you want to run to the mall with me?" with a person who uses a wheelchair, or "Have you heard from Joe?" with a Deaf person. These common phrases in our language and will be understood. 
  10. Do not ask questions about the disability unless it directly relates to a service or assistance you are providing. How they became disabled or even the exact nature of the disability is personal information that they may not wish to share.

For more information, please visit SSD’s Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) or contact the SSD office by email at or by phone at 559-278-2811 for more information.