Inclusive interactions: Six accessibility best practices

A guide to accessibility best practices to make your interactions inclusive for everyone.

A student walks with a cane in one hand with the other on the teacher's arm as a guide. Another student walks behind them using a guide cane as well.

There’s no “secret” to interacting with people with disabilities. They just want to be treated like everybody else, with courtesy and respect. Here are six actionable accessibility best practices to make your interactions with people with disabilities respectful and comfortable:

1. Identify yourself in conversation

Not all visual impairments are immediately obvious. At Perkins, it’s an organization-wide practice to identify ourselves in meetings, at events, on phone calls, and even in virtual circumstances. 

For example: “Hi, this is Sally speaking. I agree with John’s point…”

2. Make your meetings and events accessible

  1. Welcome guide dogs.
  2. Whether in-person or virtual, describe the layout of the meeting room
  3. Remove unsafe objects in walkways (e.g. AV equipment and bags)
  4. Prepare accessible printed handouts or include digital files (braille, large print, Microsoft word or Google docs digital files, PowerPoint or Google slides)
  5. Describe visual materials. For example: “The chart shows our sales increased by 77% over the last five years”
  6. In virtual meetings, ensure captions are enabled for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  7. Make your events inclusive with our guide to accessibility best practices for events.

3. Consider using person-first language, while also taking personal preferences into account

Person-first language is a way to communicate so a person’s disability isn’t their first or most important identifier. Alternatively is identity-first language, which recognizes a person’s disability first.

While Perkins often uses people-first language, many use identity-first to reclaim their disability and describe themselves freely and proudly. So when possible, ask the person how they would like to be described: “How do you describe yourself?”

Overall, respect a person’s preferences and learn about the work being done to separate the word from negative connotations and stereotypes.

4. Ask before guiding someone who is blind

If you think someone who is blind may need a guide or help navigating, ask first. It’s jarring for anyone to be unexpectedly grabbed or pulled, but especially so for someone who can’t see who is grabbing them. By asking, you give the person a chance to accept or decline your help.

First Introduce yourself and ask if they would like your help. If they accept your help, offer your arm and describe where your arm is, allowing them to grasp your arm just above the elbow. This makes it easier for the person to feel your movements and follow on their own terms.

5. Never pet or distract a working guide dog

These dogs are busy, working companions needed to direct their owners and keep them safe. Distracting guide dogs makes them less effective and can put their owners in danger.

6. Be specific, especially in potentially dangerous situations

If a person who is blind or visually impaired is in imminent danger, be calm and clear when you warn the person. Instead of “watch out!”, use language specific to the situation like “there’s a large pothole right in front of you,” or “the sidewalk in front of you is blocked for construction”.

Also, use specific directional language like “to your left” or “directly behind you”, instead of “it’s over here.” Remember that using directions in relation to other things doesn’t work for someone who can’t see those other things.

A little understanding and sensitivity goes a long way. By following these accessibility best practices, you’ll find that making a human connection is easy. It doesn’t matter if one person can see and the other can’t.

Since 1829, Perkins has partnered with families, educators, public schools, and governments around the world to create truly accessible learning opportunities for more children with disabilities. The effects and types of blindness often extend beyond loss of vision. Learn more about Four prevalent, different types of blindness.

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