Moving Beyond Etiquette to Actionable Practice Competencies

Moving Beyond Etiquette to Actionable Practice Competencies
By June Isaacson Kailes, Disability Policy Consultant (

Etiquette Falls Short 

When asked to be a panelist at FEMA’s Region 2 Webinar (6/22/23) Disability Etiquette, Awareness, Sensitivity and Terminology Panel Discussion, it reignited my passionate feeling against concentrating on disability etiquette. Focusing primarily on etiquette, awareness, and sensitivity feels inadequate when addressing implicit biases, discrimination, and lack of access and accommodations commonly experienced by people with disabilities. Various definitions of etiquette include the customary code of politeness, niceties, good manners, decorum, form, courtesy, and civility. Etiquette feels inadequate and soft, and nibbling around the edges of the issues. Traditional etiquette approaches promoted by Emily Post and Martha Stewart fall short of addressing the complexities, preferred practices, and compliance with civil rights laws for people with disabilities. 

How can we create and promote policies and practices that are truly equitable for people with disabilities?

Actionable Practices and Core Competencies 

This blog urges using disability rights advocacy and educational activities to push for actionable practices and the development of core competencies. In my experience, it is more effective to address disability etiquette issues not separately but when integrated into practice competencies advanced in advocacy and educating activities about civil rights compliance in employment practices, healthcare delivery, and emergency services. This blog promotes the importance of practice competencies, actionable solutions, and genuine change that go beyond surface-level niceties and politeness. It is about establishing the foundation for lasting impacts and outcomes versus superficial change.

Going beyond superficial niceties involves explaining the intent and how to implement them. Using the correct terms, the proper respectful practices, and identifying implicit biases without the needed depth of context and structure is insufficient. 

Focusing on core competencies provides a practical and effective framework for fostering inclusion when educating employers, healthcare workers and providers, and emergency workers. These crucial practice competencies encompass physical, equipment, programmatic, and communication access. They are a must do, not merely a nice thing to do. 

This incorporation must be integrated into emergency planning, response, recovery, and mitigation. The vague language often found in emergency operation plans (EOPs) that rely on conditional statements like “could, should, might, and may” represents a significant risk of failure and discriminatory responses. Instead, the emphasis must be on specific, clear, actionable tactics promoting inclusivity and accessibility. These actionable disability core competencies advance that inclusivity is not a mere afterthought but a fundamental requirement. It is crucial to focus on specific, clear, and actionable competencies and capabilities, and translate legal and regulatory compliance language into actionable tasks. These competencies must incorporate the who, what, where, when, why, and how, which makes for solid implementation.

A few examples include emergency shelters, points of distribution, and resource centers providing:  

  • Effectively communicating with people with seeing, hearing, remembering, understanding disabilities.. 
  • Orienting people who are blind or have low vision to the facility and assisting with completing forms, if needed.
  • Continually checking to see that all accessibility features (in restrooms, dormitories, parking areas, noncongregate and congregate sheltering facilities, etc.) are in place and monitoring and rectifying new accessibility barriers that always crop up, such as boxes blocking accessible routes and cables laid on floors becoming tripping hazards.
  • Proactively ensuring an adequate number of wider, higher, and more flexible cots for people unable to use a standard cot.

Disability civil rights compliance must be developed and integrated into processes, procedures, protocols, policies, and training and applied. For instance, in mass care, evacuation, and transportation, it is essential to address accessibility needs comprehensively. 

Bottom Line   

Etiquette, awareness, and sensitivity are aspects of social interactions, but they are only the beginning and insufficient to remove physical, equipment, programmatic, and communication barriers. We must move beyond surface-level discussions of politeness and niceties to prioritize our limited time and energy to advance actionable practices and core competencies that foster meaningful and lasting solutions. 

Let’s make sustained shifts that remove barriers resulting in discrimination, paternalism, and ableism which prevent full participation. Moving beyond vague language, we need to build more inclusive and equitable services for integrating these disability competencies and civil rights compliance into emergency planning, response, recovery, and mitigation. Let’s focus on the hard work that transforms etiquette into actions that make concrete and lasting impacts.

Let me know what you think in the comment section below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.