Etiquette for the differently abled

Etiquette for the differently abled

Is your veterinary team ready when a vision-impaired or hard-of-hearing client comes in for the first time?
Jun 01, 2013

Nearly 54 million Americans qualify as having a disability. Included are pet owners who have disabilities related to vision, hearing, mobility or speech, according to the Census Department.

Here are a few basic rules recommended by etiquette experts to ensure that clients with a disability receive the courtesy and respect they deserve:


> To get the attention of someone with a hearing difficulty, it may be necessary to wave your hands or tap the person's shoulder. Then look directly at the person and speak clearly, slowly and expressively to establish whether or not the person can read your lips. Not all people with hearing impairments can lip read. Those who do will rely on facial expression and other body language to help in understanding.


> Some people in manual (vs. motorized) wheelchairs like to be pushed on heavy carpeting or steep upgrades, or simply when they're tired. Others prefer never to be pushed. Never begin pushing a wheelchair user without first asking whether help is desired.


> If you don't understand a person with a speech impediment, ask them to repeat. Don't simply pretend to understand. You may be embarrassed if you pretend to understand and it later becomes clear that you didn't.


> When you enter a room with a vision-impaired person, identify yourself. When leaving, let the person know.

When walking with vision-impaired clients, offer your arm and walk slightly ahead rather than taking an arm and attempting to steer them.


> Don't hesitate to use words that relate to a disability such as, "It's good to see you" to a vision-impaired patient. People with these disabilities use these expressions all the time.

Action step: Discuss this topic and these tips at a team meeting. Most people with disabilities and their families place a high value on long-term relationships with professionals who understand and accommodate their needs. Proper etiquette is a good beginning.

Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Bob Levoy is the author of 222 Secrets of Hiring, Managing and Retaining Great Employees in Healthcare Practices.