Individuals who do not live and work with or do not know anyone who has some form of disability usually find it hard to interact with such persons. They become aloof or shy because they have no experience interacting with handicapped persons and they are afraid that they will say something that is insensitive or hurtful.
If you have no idea about how to properly or smartly interact with persons with disabilities, below are some important pointers you can keep in mind:
Always think before you speak. You will come across as insensitive if you always blurt out whatever comes to your mind whenever you are talking to a person with disability. For instance, you are quite curious about what caused the person to be confined to a wheelchair. But remember that if you ask about his disability immediately just after you two met, he or she may feel like you are treating him as a disability and not as a human being. If you asked this question and the handicapped person says that he or she is not comfortable with talking about that particular detail, respect his or her decision and do not linger on that topic further.
Speak directly to the person with a disability, not to his companion, aide or sign language interpreter. This is an important basic etiquette to follow. Chances are, the person with disability can still hear and understand you; as such, don't be rude and speak with him or her directly. And remember that making small talk with a person who has a disability is great; just talk to him or her as you would with anyone else and you will never regret doing so.
Never make assumptions. People with disabilities are the best judges of what they can or cannot do. As such, don't immediately conclude or make decisions for them about which tasks they can or cannot do or about which activities they can participate in. This is a strict no-no if you want to have a good relationship with a person with disability.
Finally, always ask before you help. Never assume that just because someone has a disability, he or she always needs assistance. If the setting or location is accessible, people with disabilities can usually get around fine. Bear in mind that adults with disabilities still want to be treated as independent people. Hence, offer assistance only if the person appears to need it or if he or she specifically requests for help.