Adapting to the Ordinary // DOs and DON’Ts of a Disability “Woke” Business

Photo by  Ella Sophie  from the Out of the Box Challenge

Photo by Ella Sophie from the Out of the Box Challenge

When working with clients with disabilities, there are many considerations for making a great first impression and a long-lasting relationship. While you probably already work with other minorities, people with disabilities may require special accommodations you may not be aware of. Each individual has different abilities and needs that may require some creativity on your part to be inclusive and accommodating. No matter the type of vendor you are, here are some DOs and DON’Ts you should consider to be a disability-“woke” business:

DON’T: Use ableist language. In the disability community words like “stupid,” “lame”, “crazy,” “insane,” “retarded,” and “handicapped” can be insulting. Did you know the word “handicap” derives from the Great Depression Era when people with disabilities begged on the street with “a cap in hand?” When we have knowledge about the language we use, we gain the power to change its usage.

Also, people are not “confined to a wheelchair,” “wheelchair bound,” “hearing impaired,” or “suffering from….”


DO: Use person-first language, which acknowledges people with disabilities as people first and their disabilities second. For example, instead of saying, “Sally is a blind person,” you would say, “Sally is a person who is blind.” It might sound a bit unusual at first, but with practice it will get familiar. These are good rules to abide by, but please use the terms that your client prefers, even if they stray from these guidelines.

DON’T: Leave people with disabilities out of marketing materials, including websites and brochures.  


DO: Depict a variety of clients, including people with visible disabilities. Did you know that one in five people identify as someone with a disability? That’s a lot of customers you might be isolating without even knowing it. Showing people with disabilities in all your marketing materials will make the best first impression to potential clients, even those without disabilities. Don’t have any clients with disabilities in your repertoire? You may consider doing a styled shoot to increase the presence of people with disabilities when expanding your portfolio.

DON’T: Design your website and marketing materials without considering accessibility.


DO: Adhere to web accessibility standards like Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 and have brochures available in large-print format. Most of you probably have a website built with a content management system (CMS), such as Wordpress or Squarespace. These platforms have accessibility features that allow your site to be read by screen readers used by people with low vision. Provide alternative text on every image and add subtitles or transcripts to video content so everyone can access what you have to convey. Use cascading style-sheets (CSS) to create design hierarchy and headings that allow people with physical disabilities to navigate your site using the Tab key and other assistive devices. Design site layouts with easy to read fonts and contrasting colors so that all may read your content with ease.

DON’T: Interact with assistants and interpreters or service animals.


DO: Look at and engage with your clients with disabilities, not their caregivers, assistants, or service animals. The person with a disability is your client. When someone uses a sign language interpreter, make eye contact with and ask questions to the person they are signing for. It can be very tempting to interact with a service animal, but please don’t. It may threaten the life and safety of your client.

DON’T: Assume because your business is accessible, that it is accommodating.


DO: Be conscious of the fact that sometimes people with disabilities need extra space and time to get stuff done. This is especially true when planning meetings, appointments, and events. For example, allow more time for wedding dress appointments, as it will take longer to take dresses on and off. Meet in an alternative location if your office has stairs or is too cramped. At bridal expos and conferences, be sure your table is approachable and that your brochures are easy to reach for someone with limited mobility.

Don’t ever be afraid to ask how best to accommodate an individual’s needs. It is much appreciated by all.



Rebecca Anger is a disabled social activist and an aspiring attorney in Chicago, focusing on health and civil rights law. When she is not fighting injustice, she likes to cook and create new recipes and spend time with her husband.  

Find Rebecca on Instagram @reebs8416