Almost all people with disabilities agree that if you feel embarrassed and don't know how to treat a disabled person then the best thing to do is to be very frank, say that you feel awkward, and ask the person's advice. Other points on which most people with disabilities are agreed:-
Don't treat a person with one disability as if he were disabled in other ways. People tend to talk in monosyllables to people in wheelchairs, shout at the deaf, and address their remarks to a blind person through someone else.
Do ask if you can help - and how - if it looks as if help is needed. You may feel shy about offering help. The disabled person may also be shy about asking for it. And don't be offended if your help is not needed this time - people with disabilities usually like to be as independent as possible. And don't be put off from offering your help again at another time.
Don't say `I wouldn't try that if I were you' - a disabled person is likely to be the best judge of what he can and can't do.
Don't gush pity or say things like `I don't know how you manage, I'd die if I couldn't walk'. It's often hurtful and, under the guise of praise, reinforces the sense of being different.
Do treat disabled children as normally as possible -including not allowing them to misbehave. Disabled children need to learn the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, in their own society, just as other children do.
Do identify yourself straightaway. A blind person can't always place you by a `hello'. It's hard for him to reply, warmly, `hello' if he doesn't know who you are. So give a name and context: `Hello, it's Anna. We met last week at Maria's house.'
Do make a special effort to remember the name of a person who is blind. Beginning with his name is the only way of letting him know that you are talking to him.
Don't feel shy about saying things like `nice to see you' to a blind person. He may even say it back. It's impossible to avoid words connected with seeing - blind people aren't self-conscious about it and you needn't be.
Don't grab a blind person's arm unexpectedly. You'll startle him. In fact don't hold a blind person's arm at all! Allow him to hold yours. He is then safely half a step behind you and so is forewarned of what your next move will be by the change in your position.
Don't say `here's a step' - say, `step up' or `step down'. It's dangerous as well as embarrassing to be waving your foot in mid-air when the step actually leads down. Also if the step is exceptionally deep or shallow - do mention it.
Don't leave doors half open. Shut them all the way or open them flat against the wall. It's easy - and painful - to walk into a half-closed door.
Don't exclude a blind person from television. It gives him access to a world familiar to his sighted friends.
Don't exclude a blind friend from outdoor activities. Ask if he would like to shop with you instead of your doing it for him.
If a guide dog is helping, don't interfere unless asked.
Don't hustle a child away from a mentally retarded person who approaches you. It only perpetuates the feeling that there is something to be afraid and ashamed of. If he reaches out to touch a child, take his hand and turn it into a friendly handshake - deflecting the attention away from the child and onto yourself.
Don't be afraid of a mentally retarded person. Few are violent - and if they are among people you can assume that they are not violent. Avoidance and rejection are among the most commonly upsetting things to people who are mentally retarded.
Do be honest and keep promises. Don't assume a mentally retarded person doesn't understand or remember what you've said.
Do take time to listen to someone who is mentally ill - and don't assume that he has no knowledge or opinions of value.
Don't express pity for parents of mentally retarded children - their child is just as precious to them as any child is to any parent.
Don't give advice, except to point someone in the direction of professional help if none is being given and some help seems necessary.
Do remember that any practical help you offer may need to be given for a long period.
Don't tell a person who is mentally ill to `pull themselves together'. If they could, they would.
Don't grab a wheelchair unasked. The occupant can easily be pitched out by an inexpert enthusiast. Remember to warn him if you are going to turn the chair round quickly. In fact, it's thoughtful to tell him whatever you're next move is going to be.
Do check with the person in the wheelchair if the speed you are pushing him at is comfortable. Too fast - it's unsettling. Too slow - it's plain boring.
Don't lift the chair by the armrests - they'll probably come out in your hands. Do remember that the person may find it hard to hear what you are merrily chattering about - and since your voice, coming from high up and behind, may not compete well with traffic noise. Aslo, from his vantage point, he may not be able to see what you are pointing to.
Do chat to a person in a stationary wheelchair with your head on the same level. It's embarrassing always literally to be `looked down upon' and uncomfortable always to be looking up.
Do ask him how to get a wheelchair up or down a kerb or a flight of stairs- there are often simple mechanisms or techniques which the disabled person will know.
Do keep your face clearly visible when talking to a deaf person. Face the light. If you stand with your back to the light or window then you may be silhouetted, wiping out the details needed for lipreading. Don't move around - your deaf friend will miss words each time you turn your face.
Do fill in bits of dialogue on television programmes or in conversation when crucial lines are delivered without 'the person who is deaf being able to see who's talking.
Don't distort your face exaggeratedly to `help' a lip-reader. The subtle signs he watches out for will be swamped by such contortions. And don't shout - it doesn't help and can distort hearing aids.
Do bear in mind that someone who is deaf maybe nervous of going out in the dark. Already denied one sense, he may be uneasy about being deprived of another. Indoors, make sure he has easy access to a safe light. And don't forget to take a flashlight if you go out at night with someone who is deaf - shine it on your face when you speak.
Don't remain silent if you can't make out what a deaf person is trying to say, or if his hearing aid is making a whistling noise. Be frank. How else is he to know?
Don't condescend. A deaf person's voice may sound strange. But there's no need to behave as if he is mentally retarded.
Do play music. People who are deaf can often 'hear' the beat through the vibrations. Deaf teenagers love records and dancing at discoes - the louder the music the better.