Excellent Customer Service for People with Disabilities
Different types of customers described in slide.

All customers may need extra attention and assistance at different times. People with disabilities are really not that different.

This presentation provides some general information about people with disabilities and universal tips to ensure excellent customer service for all customers, including customers with disabilities.

Disability Demographics
Graphic showing large group of people, some with disabilities.


People with disabilities make up 20% of the population. They are the largest minority group in the U.S. 

Disability Demographics
Mother and children walking through park.  One child uses a cane for balance.


Disability also impacts family members. This significantly increases the number of people in the U.S. who are affected by disability in some way. Meeting the needs of customers with disabilities may also include  interaction with, and attention to, the needs of family members.

The ADA Definition of Disability
Icons representing several different types of disabilities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act defines disability as having "an impairment that substantially affects major life activities and functions."

This means a condition that substantially affects activities such as walking, seeing, hearing, breathing, learning, and interacting with others. The definition also includes conditions such as diabetes, cancer, and multiple sclerosis.

Invisible Disabilities
Group of people with visible and invisible disabilities giving thumbs up sign.

Often, people only consider "readily apparent" conditions such as use of a wheelchair to be a disability.

But many disabilities are not readily apparent such as diabetes, depression, anxiety disorder, or seizure disorders.  These types of conditions are referred to as "invisible disabilities".

People with "invisible disabilities" have the same rights under the ADA as people with “readily apparent" disabilities.

Disability Demographics
Snapshots of people of different genders, ages, races, an ethnicity.

The disability community is diverse.

Disability impacts people of all ages, gender, race, ethnicity, and socio-economic levels.

People with Disabilities Have Diverse Needs and Abilities.
Blind man going up escalator with other shoppers.

People with similar disabilities may have very different needs and abilities. For example, one customer who is blind may require guiding assistance and asks several questions, while another customer who is blind wants to shop independently.

Universal Tips that Apply to ALL Customers Including Customers with Disabilities and Older Adults

Young woman with Down's Syndrome getting ready to pay the waiter at an outdoor cafe.

Introduce Yourself
Woman speaking to blind man in airport.

Let the customer know who you are and your role in the business.

This is especially helpful for people who are blind or have low vision.

Speak Directly to the Customer, Not Third Parties
Medical doctor with patient and ASL interpreter.

If a customer who is deaf uses an interpreter for communication, keep your eye contact and focus on the customer-not the interpreter.

This also applies to senior citizens or customers with other types of disabilities who may bring family members or friends for assistance.

Body Language is Important
Women talking to customers leaning toward them with open hands in front of her.

Make eye contact with the customer.

Leaning forward with open hands says "I'm listening to you".

Make sure your body language doesn't show impatience when a customer needs extra time or assistance.

Examples of body language to avoid: foot tapping, crossed arms, and pointing at people.

Personal Space is Important
Several people standing in a cramped elevator.

Pay attention to "personal space".

  • Most people appreciate not having someone get uncomfortably close for no reason (like the crowded elevator.)
  • Respecting personal space can be helpful for people who have disabilities such as PTSD or autism.
  • Also: Don't touch the customer's belonging or personal devices without asking.
Speaking Loudly Doesn't Always Help.
One child yelling through a megaphone at another child.

Avoid the tendency to "turn up the volume" if a person:

  • Asks a question twice.
  • Has difficulty speaking.
  • Use hearing aides or cochlear implants. (They are tuned for normal volume.)
  • Needs any other kind of assistance.
  • If you think the customer needs you to speak more loudly, just ask!
Communication is Critical to Customer Service.
Illustration showing ideas exchanging between two faces.

Make sure both you and the customer are clear on what is being said.

When unsure of communication:

Use the "Play it Back" Technique.

Repeat back or summarize what you understood the customer to be saying. Then let the customer confirm if that was correct. Make sure you understand the communication and take the extra time needed to confirm.

Offering and Providing Assistance.
Man using a wheelchair receiving assistance in getting an item from back of shelf.

If you notice a customer having difficulty opening a door, getting a wheelchair over a threshold, getting an item off a shelf, etc., don't hesitate to offer assistance. However:

Do Not Rush in Without Asking Permission! Why?

  • You don't know the best to way to assist the person.
  • May actually cause an injury.

Let the customer explain how best to help.

Be Comfortable with Differences!
Row of men in black pants and socks except for one  wearing red socks.

Some people may act and do things in a way that is different from what is considered "typical".

Unless this poses an actual problem, customers should not have to conform or explain their behaviors. There is probably a very good reason for what they are doing and it happens to be way that they typically function.

Final Tip: Be Yourself!
  • Be helpful, attentive, and relaxed.
  • You don't need to  be overly helpful--that can seem condescending.
  • Listen to what the customer wants and needs. 
  • Don't be afraid to ask if you are not sure if someone needs help or how best to help.
  • Remember, the tips in this presentation can apply to all customers.
Customer Service Tips for Specific Disabilities

Illustration of symbols for different disabilities.

Customers Who Use Wheelchairs
Customers including young male wheelchair user looking at menus at a restaurant table.
  • A wheelchair is part of a person’s body space. (Don’t lean on it)
  • Sit at eye level for longer or important conversations.
  • Keep paths clear in buildings and outside. Notice if someone is having difficulty getting to a space or location.
Customers Who are Blind or Have Low Vision
Blind shopper going up an escalator.
  • Always identify yourself and your role in the business.
  • Always try to get a customer's attention verbally. Don't approach the customer from behind or speak from behind the person. Face the customer when you speak.
  • Never touch or grab a cane. (Unless an emergency situation.)
  • Let the customer know when you are leaving the room or service area.
Customers Who Have Speech Related Disabilities
Close up of man speaking.
  • Allow the customer time to speak-don't show impatience. Pay attention to what your body language and facial expressions are conveying.
  • Remember the customer may have difficulty speaking--not understanding.  Don't change your vocabulary or manner of speaking.
  • Don't complete the person's words or sentences.
Customers Who Have Speech Related Disabilities
Woman and pharmacist speaking to each other.
  • Use the same tone of voice and volume that you would normally use, unless the customer asks for you to speak louder, slower, etc.
  • Focus on the customer's words, not the manner in which they are said.
Customers Who Are Deaf or Have Hearing Loss
Two women using sign language chatting at a coffee shop.
  • Don't automatically speak loudly to customers wearing hearing aids or have cochlear implants.  These devices are tuned for normal range of speech volume.
  • Keep your face and mouth visible when a customer is lip reading.  Don't over enunciate or talk too slowly--that can actually make lip-reading more difficult.
  • When an interpreter is present, address the customer, not the interpreter.
  • Be open to a variety of forms of communication.  People with hearing disorders may use text messages or apps to communicate.
Customers with Cognitive Disabilities.
Young man with Down's Syndrome wearing a T-shirt that reads "label jars, not people".


  • Avoid making assumptions about intelligence and functioning based upon appearance.
  • A customer might need extra time to process information and ask for explanations more than once.
  • Use clear language and examples.  Break information into "chunks".  Avoid giving a lot of information at once.
  • The customer may need simple, written notes for follow-up or a demonstration on how to use a product.
Customers Who Use Service Animals
Service dog helping customer check-in at hotel counter.

ADA Definition:  A dog that is individually trained to perform a task or work for an individual with a disability.  Task or work should assist the person's functioning and independence.

  • Must be allowed to go wherever the customer can go.
  • Required to be under the customer's control.
  • Staff should not pet, offer treats  or distract a service dog.  Those actions may distract the dog from its tasks.
Customers Who Use Service Animals

Staff may ask two questions to determine is a dog is a service animal.

  • Is your dog a service animal?
  • What task has it been trained to perform for you?

Staff may not:

  • Ask about the customer's type of disability.
  • Require documentation of training, registration, or licensure.

Staff may remove a service dog that is not under the handler's control: barking, wandering, growling, snarling, or biting.

Customer has the right to return without the animal, if it is removed.

This Content Was Developed By:

Great Plains ADA Center

A member of the ADA National Network. 
Serving Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska.

We provide information, training, and technical assistance
on the Americans with Disabilities Act.


[email protected]