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Accessible PracticesBest PracticesVisitors with Disabilities
This page provides links to information on ways to welcome, accommodate, and interact with visitors with various disabilities.

Becoming Familiar with Various Disabilities

There are many different kinds of disabilities and a spectrum of degrees to which a given disability limits a person's life activities. For example, a person with a "mobility impairment" could be someone who tires easily or someone who always uses a wheelchair. Advocacy organizations for people with disabilities, such as the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY) or the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), both listed below, provide fact sheets on various disabilities.

The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines an individual with a disability as "a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities." More than 20 percent of the United States population, some 54 million people, are classified as having a disability. About one in 10 Americans is considered to have a severe disability (McNeil, J.M., "Disabilities Affect One-Fifth of All Americans." 1997. Bureau of the Census. Census Brief, CENBR/97-5, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC).

Appropriate Language and Etiquette

What is considered "appropriate" language varies geographically, culturally, and over time, so it is important to consult reliable sources like those listed below. Use appropriate language in all personal interactions, recorded media, and written materials. Language is a part of etiquette. How staff greet and talk with visitors helps make the museum experience much more enjoyable. For example, when speaking to persons who are hard of hearing or deaf, always face them because they may be reading your lips. Several of the links below lead to documents that describe appropriate etiquette.

Links and Publications Related to Interacting with Visitors

Access Guide
Exhibits, Programs, Facilities
Sign Language Interpreters

Commonly Asked Questions about Service Animals in Places of Business
This document produced by the U.S. Department of Justice provides answers to frequently asked questions about guide dogs and other service animals.

Disability Awareness Guide
Produced by VSA arts, these pages describe various disabilities, myths and facts about them, suggestions for positive interactions, references, and sources for further information. Disabilities discussed include visual impairments, deafness, learning disabilities, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, mental illness, developmental disabilities, and mobility impairments.

Disability Etiquette Handbook
The City of San Antonio Disability Access Office compiled these useful guidelines on conversation etiquette and related topics.

Guidelines for Reporting and Writing about People with Disabilities
The fifth edition of these guidelines, produced by the Research and Training Center on Independent Living at the University of Kansas, provides advice on ways to write appropriately and accurately about people with disabilities.

How to Be a Sighted Guide
The Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind developed this set of guidelines for being a sighted guide for a person with a visual disability. A sighted guide is a person who acts as the eyes of a blind or visually impaired person, assisting him or her to navigate in unfamiliar territory.

Language Is a Powerful Tool
This booklet by the National Center on Accessibility provides an introduction to the topic of respectful language. Single copies are free, and multiple copies are available at a nominal cost. To order, call 765/349-9240.

Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
This link leads to a list of fact sheets on communicating with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The topics covered include sign language interpreters, American Sign Language, assistive technologies, demographics, and etiquette.

National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY)
NICHCY provides information on disabilities and referrals. The NICHCY Disability Fact Sheets provide definitions, characteristics, and educational implications for several disabilities. NICHCY also has information specialists available to answer your questions at V/TTY 800/695-0285 or V/TTY 202/884-8200.

Part of Your General Public Is Disabled: A Handbook for Guides in Museums, Zoos, and Historic Houses. Janice Majewski. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1987.
Well-trained docents may be your most important accessibility resource. This book and video make a strong training package. The book is an excellent resource of specific accessibility information. Available as a book/video package or as a book alone from ASTC and AAM (

Removing Barriers: Tips and Strategies to Promote Accessible Communication
Removing Barriers is a publication of the North Carolina Office on Disability and Health (NCODH). It contains information on using a TTY, interacting with people with disabilities, and designing accessible web pages, audiovisual presentations, and print materials. A printed copy can be ordered for a nominal fee from NCODH by calling 919/966-0868 or 919/715-2505.

Royal National Institute for the Blind, United Kingdom (RNIB)
RNIB provides many on-line resources regarding blindness and low vision. This link takes you to a list of on-line and printed fact sheets. They cover topics such as alternate formats for print materials, eye conditions, legal obligations, accessibility in museums, audio description, and technology.

Speaking with Awareness: People-First Language
VSA arts provides examples of appropriate terminology and some guidance on conversation etiquette.

U.S. Bureau of the Census
This site provides statistical data and some analysis about the number of people with disabilities in the United States. This data is based upon the Survey of Income and Program Participation conducted in 1994-95.

Publications Related to the Disability Experience

Train Go Sorry: Inside a Deaf World. Leah Hager Cohen. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994.

Black Bird Fly Away: Disabled in an Able-Bodied World. Hugh Gallagher. Arlington, VA: Vandemere Press, 1998.

Moving Violations: War Zones, Wheelchairs, and Declarations. John Hockenberry. New York, NY: Hyperion, 1995.

Touching the Rock: An Experience of Blindness. John M. Hull. New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 1990.

Waist-High in the World: A Life Among the Nondisabled. Nancy Mairs. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1996.

The Ragged Edge: The Disability Experience from the Pages of the First Fifteen Years of the Disability Rag. Ed. Barrett Shaw. Louisville, KY: Advocado Press, 1994.

Missing Pieces: A Chronicle of Living with a Disability. Irving Kenneth Zola. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1982.

This web site is not intended to offer legal, architectural, engineering, or similar professional advice. Refer specific questions to an attorney or an ADA authority.

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