Perceptions, prejudices, and attitudinal barriers are the first and most formidable barriers that persons with disabilities face when attempting to participate fully in society.
Historically, people with disabilities have been stereotyped in many different ways. Some of the stereotypes used to label people with disabilities persist in the mind of the public today. Incomplete information, mistaken perceptions, isolation and segregation have perpetuated many of these stereotypes. Viewing a person with a disability or groups of persons with disabilities according to stereotypes limits what we expect of them and how we respond to them.
Fortunately, the negative stereotypes and attitudinal barriers are being replaced by a more positive view of people with disabilities as individuals, entitled to full protection, rights, and privileges under the law. They are also entitled to the same services, opportunities, and benefits afforded other persons.
- Menace to society - Between 1870 and
1925, persons with disabilities were chiefly seen as contributing to the
decline of civilization. People with mental retardation in particular were
viewed as threats to society. This view led to segregation, imprisonment,
persecution, and dehumanization of thousands of people. Placement in large
custodial settings, or "asylums" as they were called then, was
common. Sterilization was widely used as a means of preventing people with
mental retardation from reproducing.
- Inferior - Some people
believe that a person with a disability is a "second class
citizen" not entitled to the same rights and privileges as a person
without a disability.
- Incapable - A person with a
disability is often considered incapable of accomplishing a task without
given an opportunity to display his/her skills.
- Hero; special - Some people
consider someone with a disability who lives independently and/or is
employed as brave or special for overcoming their disability.
- Object of ridicule - The appearance
of a person with a disability in "freak shows" and circuses
illustrates this point. Historical novels sometimes depict people with
disabilities as fools, court jesters, and clowns.
- Object of pity or charity – People feel
sorry for a person with a disability which can lead to patronizing
attitudes. Until recently, services ranging from education to clothing
were given to people with disabilities out of pity or a sense of charity.
It was not uncommon for people with disabilities to have to beg for
survival. A person with a disability was not expected to work or live
- Eternal child - The most common
present misconception of people who have mental retardation and persons
with many other types of disabilities is that they are children forever.
The tendency is to expect them to behave like children.
- Sick - Still common
today, is the view of a person with a disability as sick often mentally
ill. This has led to an emphasis on medical treatment in hospital
settings. Although it is unrealistic to expect most disabilities to be
totally overcome or cured, some disabilities such as epilepsy can be
treated or controlled by drugs. All people with disabilities can be helped
through the delivery of better services and more opportunities to assist
them in becoming as independent as possible.
- Subhuman - This view is still
encountered today, particularly where people with severe disabilities are
concerned. Such persons are often referred to as "animals" or
- Fear - Many people fear
they will say or do the wrong thing and, therefore, avoid people with
- Backlash - People believe
that individuals with disabilities are given unfair advantages.
- Denial - "Hidden"
disabilities are not "real" disabilities that require
- Spread effect - People assume
that a person with a disability is totally impaired. For example, people
may talk loudly to a person who is blind.
Myths About Job Corps Students With Disabilities
Replacing myths, like those below, with a more
positive view of students with disabilities on Job Corps centers takes time,
patience, and understanding. Positive staff attitudes and the presence of
students with disabilities on center participating in the program to the same
level as their peers should help the process.
- Students with disabilities cannot
be taught a vocation - especially something that requires a skill - This is not
true. Each student with a disability is an individual with certain
abilities. The focus should be on what the individual can do, not limited
by what he/she cannot. For instance, a student with a cognitive disability
may have weaknesses in traditional academic areas, but do well in other
areas. For example, this student may do well in carpentry, but have
trouble reading. The key is to provide the student with the training
he/she needs to match both their abilities and interests.
- Students with disabilities cannot
make academic gains - With reasonable accommodation, the student may make
academic gains in language or math.
- All students with disabilities
have low mental abilities - Becoming disabled due to an
accident or the loss of hearing, speech, or limbs does not mean the loss
of mental ability.
- Students with disabilities will
miss a lot of time from class - This is not true. With the proper
medications, treatment, and/or counseling, most students with disabilities
will miss no more, and often less time than students without disabilities.
The rules for interacting appropriately with people with
disabilities are the same as for any other person. In other words, always treat
a person with a disability just like you would want to be treated - with respect
and courtesy. The "tips" suggested in this module address specific
issues that may arise when interacting with people with different kinds of
disabilities. Since everyone is different, these "tips" may not hold
true for all individuals.
Keep in mind that knowing how to react appropriately in
every situation requires time and practice. As with all other etiquette issues,
when mistakes are made, apologize, correct the problem, learn from the mistake,
move on–do not be discouraged, and above all, keep trying. Offering center-wide training in disability awareness/basic etiquette will allow staff to refer, interact, and respond appropriately to people with a variety of disabilities. There are many organizations (see the web resources section at the bottom of this page) that may be able to assist the center with disability awareness training by either providing materials, technical assistance, or conducting an actual training.
and all assistive devices (canes, wheelchairs, crutches, communication
boards, etc.) should always be respected as personal property. Unless
given specific and explicit permission, do not move, play with, or use
introduced to a person with a disability, it is appropriate to offer to
shake hands. People with limited hand use or those who wear an artificial
limb can usually shake hands. Shaking hands with the left hand is an
direct your communication to the individual with a disability. If they are
accompanied, do not direct your comments to the companion.
portraying people with disabilities as non-sexual. People with
disabilities are capable of establishing loving relationships and
expressing the same sexual needs and desires as non-disabled people.
not focus on the disability, but on the individual and the issue at hand.
considerate of the extra time it may take for a person with a disability
to move around or complete a task.
you are uncertain about what to do, ask. Most people would rather answer a
question about protocol than be in an uncomfortable situation.
not worry about what to call someone. All people with disabilities have
that people with disabilities are interested in the same topics of
conversation as non-disabled people.
a normal speaking tone and style. If someone needs you to speak in a
louder voice, he/she will ask you to do so.
that people with disabilities, like all people, are experts on themselves.
They know what they like, what they do not like, and what they can and
with disabilities in Job Corps program are there because they want to
become employable and independent. Ensure that your attitudes and the
attitudes of other staff/students do not prevent this.
Don't be embarrassed if you happen to use common expressions such as
"see you later" that seem to relate to the person's disability.
Cognitive Disabilities or Intellectual
clear language that is concise and to the point.
clichés and idiomatic usages, unless someone is clearly familiar with the
not "talk down" to a person with an intellectual disability.
through" the steps of a task or project. Let an individual perform
each part of the task after you explain it.
that an adult with an intellectual disability has had the same experiences
as any other adult.
pictures or simple photographs to identify rooms, tasks, or directions.
the individual as you would anyone else. If engaging in a conversation
with someone with an intellectual disability, bring up the same topics of
conversation as you would with anyone else such as weekend activities,
vacation plans, the weather, or recent events.
your comments, questions, and concerns regarding a person with an
intellectual disability or a cognitive disability to that individual.
Remember that persons with an intellectual disability or cognitive
disabilities are legally competent. They can sign documents, vote, give
consent to medical care, and sign contracts.
that a wheelchair is part of an individual's "personal space."
Do not lean on it, push it, or rest your feet on it without explicit
ask if you can offer assistance before you
provide assistance. If your offer of assistance is accepted, ask for
instructions and follow those that are given to you.
given permission to push a wheelchair, push slowly at first. Wheelchairs
can pick up momentum quickly.
check locations of events for accessibility. Use a checklist. Alert
persons with mobility impairments of potential problems or barriers if
they can't be removed before the event.
not ask people how they acquired their disability, how they feel about it,
or other personal questions unless it is clear that someone may want to
discuss it. It is not their job to educate you.
not pat an individual who uses a wheelchair on the back or on the head.
possible, sit down so that you are at eye level.
that, in general, persons with mobility impairments are not deaf, visually
impaired, or cognitively impaired. The only accommodations that you need
to make are those that relate to mobility impairment.
the use of your arm. Do not clutch the person's arm or steer the
individual. Walk as you normally would.
not be offended if your offer to assist a visually impaired person is
a person with visual impairment a brief description of the surroundings.
descriptive phrases that relate to sound, smell, and distance when guiding
a visually impaired person.
dogs are working animals and should not be treated as pets. Do not give
the dog instructions, play with, or touch him/her.
not grab or try to steer the cane of a person with visual impairments.
ask, do not assume which format a person with visual impairments prefers information
(e.g., braille, large print, or audiotape).
your comments, questions or concerns to the person with a visual
impairment, not to his/her interpreter or companion.
you are reading for a person with visual impairment, first describe the information
to be read. Use a normal speaking voice. Do not skip information unless
requested to do so.
identify yourself by name.
Deaf/Hard of Hearing
look directly at a person with hearing loss.
not obscure you face and mouth.
is a wide range of hearing losses and communication methods. Ask, if
you do not know the individual's preferred communication method.
get the attention of a person with a hearing loss, call his/her name. If
there is no response, you can lightly touch him/her on the arm or
clearly and evenly. Do not exaggerate your speech.
you are asked to repeat yourself several times, try rephrasing your
providing information that involves a number or an address, consider
alternative ways to provide it; writing, faxing, texting, or e-mailing are great
ways to ensure accuracy and decrease frustration.
you are experiencing extreme difficulty communicating orally, ask if you
can write. Never say, "Oh, forget it, it is not important." Keep
messages simple and direct.
aware of the environment. Large and crowded rooms and hallways can be very
difficult for deaf/hard of hearing persons. Bright sunlight and shadows
also present barriers. Do not change the topic of
conversation without warning. Use transitional phrases such as "Okay,
now we need to discuss..."
not ignore persons with speech impairments because of your concerns that
you will not understand them, or they will not understand you.
not interrupt a person with a speech impairment. Speak only when you are
certain that he or she has finished speaking.
not attempt to rush a conversation. Plan for a conversation with a person
with impaired speech to take longer.
the individual and maintain eye contact. Give the conversation your full
the individual is accompanied by another individual, do not address
questions, comments, or concerns to the companion.
not pretend you understand what is being said if you do not.
not assume that a person with a speech impairment is incapable of
people with speech impairments have difficulty with inflections. Do not
make assumptions based on facial expressions or vocal inflections unless
you know the individual very well.
not play with or try to use someone's communication device. Such
communication aids are considered an extension of an individual's
"personal space" and should be respected as such.
you are having trouble communicating, ask if an individual can use a
computer or TDD.
not assume that people with psychiatric disabilities necessarily need any
extra assistance or different treatment.
people with psychiatric disabilities as individuals. Do not make
assumptions based on experiences you have had with other people with psychiatric
not assume that people with psychiatric disabilities are more likely to be
violent than people without psychiatric disabilities; this is a myth.
not assume that all people with psychiatric disabilities take medication
or should take medication.
not assume that all people with psychiatric disabilities are not capable
of signing contracts or giving consent for medical treatment. Many are
not assume that people with psychiatric disabilities also have cognitive
disabilities or are less intelligent than the general population.
not assume that people with psychiatric disabilities are not capable of
working in a wide variety of jobs which require a wide range of skills and
not assume that people with psychiatric disabilities do not know what is
best for them or have poor judgment.
someone with a psychiatric disability gets upset, ask calmly if there is
anything you can do to help and then respect their wishes.
not assume that a person with a psychiatric disability is unable to cope
Job Corps Resources