Official Gov’t Etiquette Rule: OK to Say ‘See You Later’ to Blind Person

By Elizabeth Harrington | October 18, 2012 | 9:31am EDT

(AP Photo)

( - Marking October as “Disability Awareness Month,” Attorney General Eric Holder told a gathering at the Justice Department Tuesday that his agency is making the hiring and promotion of disabled persons a priority. As part of the effort, DOJ employees will be trained on “disability etiquette.”

Among the government’s etiquette tips: Don’t lean on someone’s wheelchair; don’t distract service animals; and when speaking to blind people, “Don't be afraid to use common expressions that refer to sight, such as, ‘See you later.’”

Holder’s comments came as more Americans than ever before are collecting federal disability payments.  As has reported, 8,786,049 Americans received disability insurance payments in September, according to the Social Security Administration.

As part of his plan to build a “stronger Department of Justice,” Holder said he’s “moving aggressively” to “foster inclusion and diversity” within DOJ ranks.

“We’re striving to raise diversity awareness through a series of training programs that highlight interviewing techniques, disability etiquette, assistive technology, and reasonable accommodation practices,” Holder said.

“Disability etiquette” involves the proper way to approach and speak to a disabled person. The Labor Department's Office of Disability Employment Policy spells it out, as follows:

Phraseology: It’s okay to say that someone has an intellectual, cognitive, developmental disability, but it’s wrong to say they are mentally retarded.

It’s wrong to say someone is disabled or handicapped, but it’s okay to describe someone as a “person with a disability.”

People are not “confined to” a wheelchair – they “use a wheelchair.”

‘See you later’

Tips for interacting with or interviewing people with disabilities are based on respect and courtesy, the DOL policy says. The suggestions include:

-- Speak directly to persons with disabilities, regardless of what the disability is, not to their companions.
-- Extend common courtesies to people with disabilities, such as shaking hands if possible.
-- Don’t pretend to understand a person with a speech impairment. Ask the individual to repeat it.
-- If you wish to get the attention of a person who is deaf, tap the person gently on the shoulder or arm.
-- Identify yourself when speaking to a person who is blind and announce when you are leaving. Don't be afraid to use common expressions that refer to sight, such as, "See you later."
-- Put yourself at eye level of people who use wheelchairs. Never lean on wheelchairs.
-- Do not touch or distract service animals.
-- You may offer assistance to the disabled, but wait for your offer to be accepted before you try to help.
-- If you are interviewing a job candidate with a disability, listen to what the individual has to offer. Do not make assumptions about what that person can or cannot do.
-- Relax.

Holder set a two-percent quota for hiring persons with disabilities within the Justice Department in 2010 in a memo to department heads and all U.S. Attorneys.

In his speech on Tuesday, Holder praised the Americans with Disabilities Act, saying, “We can all be proud of the Justice Department’s strong enforcement of the ADA.”

Among other things, the law is used by the DOJ to go into towns across America to make sure their sidewalks and public buildings are accessible to disabled people – even if no one has complained. It’s called “Project Civic Access.”

On the same day Holder spoke, in fact, the Justice Department announced it had reached an agreement with the city of North Adams, Mass., “to improve access for people with disabilities to civic life in North Adams.” In this case, someone complained that the city’s police station was inaccessible.

Under “Project Civic Access,” the Justice Department says it sends “investigators, attorneys and architects” to survey “state and local government facilities, services and programs in communities across the country to identify the modifications needed for compliance with ADA requirements.”

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