Sensitivity at the Polls

The rules of etiquette and good manners apply when working with every voter who enters a polling place. In addition, the following guidance may be helpful when working with people with disabilities.

The Basics:

  • Ask before you help.
    • Offer to help (opening a door, carrying packages) if it makes sense. Ask yourself, "Would I want help in a similar situation?"
    • People with disabilities are the best judge of what they can or cannot do.
  • Be sensitive about physical contact.
    • Consider a person's wheelchair, walker or other assistive device as an extension of their body.
  • Communicate at their level.
    • Communication can be easier when people are at the same level. If someone is at a lower level than you, sit or stand back so they can make eye contact without having to strain their neck.
  • Think before you speak.
    • Always speak directly to the person with a disability.
    • Treat the person with a disability as you would everyone else.
  • Be aware of your environment:
    • Ensure your pathways and operational space allows for easy passage and maneuverability for wheelchairs and other assistive devices.
    • Use fragrance-free or scent-free products if possible.
  • Respond graciously to requests.
    • If someone with a disability asks for assistance, accommodate their needs to the best of your ability.

Terminology Tip:

  • Put the Person First.
    • Remember the disability does not define the person, examples of appropriate terminology is below:
      • Person with a Disability
      • People with Disabilities
      • Person who uses a wheelchair

For people who use Wheelchairs or other Mobility Devices:

  • When speaking with someone using a wheelchair, sit at their level or stand a slight distance so eye contact can be made more easily.
  • Consider a person's wheelchair or walker as an extension of their body.
  • If you offer a seat to a person who has limited mobility, keep in mind that chairs with arms or with higher seats are easier for some people to use.
  • Remember some people may not have a visible disability, but still have needs related to their mobility.

For people who are Blind:

  • Identify yourself before you make physical contact with a person who is Blind. Tell them your name and your role if it is appropriate.
  • People who are blind may need their arms for balance, so offer your arm if they need to be guided.
  • It is appropriate to guide the hand of a person who is blind to a banister or the back of a chair to help direct them to a stairway or a seat.
  • If the person has a guide dog, walk on the opposite side of the dog.
  • If you are giving directions, give specific, non-visual information.
  • If you need to leave a person who is blind, inform them you are leaving and ask if they need anything before you leave.
  • Use verbal answers to questions, remember people who are Blind cannot see a head nod.

For People who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing:

  • Follow the person's cues to find out if they prefers sign language, gesturing, writing, or speaking.
  • When using a sign language interpreter, look directly at the person who is Deaf and maintain eye contact to be polite.
  • Before speaking to a person who is deaf or has loss of hearing, make sure you get their attention.
  • If after repeating sentences multiple times the person still does not understand, try rephrasing the sentences.
  • Speak in a normal volume, if the person uses a hearing aid, it will be calibrated to normal voice levels.

People with Speech Disabilities:

  • Give the person your full attention.
  • If you are not sure whether you have understood you can repeat for verification.
  • If, after trying, you still cannot understand the person, ask him to write it down or to suggest another way of facilitating communication.
  • Be patient; take as much time as necessary to communicate effectively.