Disability Etiquette 101

Disability Etiquette 101 Banner with handicap symbol, cognitive symbol, blind symbol, and sign language symbol.

Have you ever interacted with a person with a disability and didn’t quite know the proper way to act? Have you ever seen an individual with a disability struggle to get an item off the top shelf at the grocery store and weren’t sure how to help, what to say, or what to do at all? 

Individuals with disabilities are people just like everyone else, and want to be treated with the same dignity and respect like anyone else.

Here are some tips and tools to help you understand the
Do’s and Do Not’s of Disability Etiquette.

People First Language
People First Language puts the PERSON before the disability,
and describes what the person has, not who a person is. 

Did you know that “wheelchair bound” or “confined to a wheelchair” can actually be seen by many as an offensive term. Understanding proper language and terminology is important to know when interacting with people with disabilities. It’s about People First, focusing on terminology that focuses on the person first and disability second.


Disability terminology Do's and Don'ts.


Instead of:


People with disabilities


The handicapped or disabled


He has a cognitive disability/diagnosis


He’s mentally retarded


She has autism (or a diagnosis of...)


Shes autistic


He has Down syndrome (or a diagnosis of)


He’s Down’s; a mongoloid


She has a learning disability (diagnosis)


Shes learning disabled


He has a physical disability (diagnosis)


He’s crippled


She's of short stature/she's a little person


Shes a dwarf/midget


He has a mental health condition/ diagnosis


He’s emotionally disturbed/mentally ill


She uses a wheelchair/mobility chair


Shes confined to a wheelchair/ wheelchair bound


He receives special ed services


He’s in special ed


She has a developmental delay


Shes developmentally delayed


People without disabilities


Normal or healthy people


Communicates with her eyes/device/etc


Is non-verbal




Client, consumer, recipient, etc


Congenital disability


Birth defect


Brain injury


Brain Damaged


Accessible parking, hotel room, etc


Handicapped parking, hotel room, etc


She needs. . . or she uses. . .


She has a problem with or has special needs

Excerpted from Katie Snow’s People First Language article available at


Tips When Interacting with a Blind or Visually Impaired person.

  • Identify yourself and allow the rest of the group to do the same.

  • Offer your elbow if someone needs to be guided; don’t take his.

  • Walk on the opposite side of a guide dog or cane; don’t stare.

  • Give specific, non‐visual directions; don’t ignore.

  • Orient people with visual impairments using numbers on the face of a clock.

  • Don't yell greetings or instructions; just because they cannot see does not mean they cannot hear. 



**Click HERE to take the Interactive Disability Etiquette Challenge**
What would you do challenge?
Courtesy of Easter Seals Disability Services

Additional Guides and Resources

Language Matters When Writing About Mental Illness
(Courtesy of Mental Health Association of Portland)

Employer's Assistance Guide: Interviewing Individuals with Disabilities
(Courtesy of Orange County Addictions & Disabilities Resources Manual)

Disability Etiquette Complete Guide: Tips on Interacting with People with Disabilities (Courtesy of United Spinal Association)


Disability Etiquette: Nine Tips

Disability Etiquette A to Z

Cartoon image of Disability Etiquette: Nine Tips
Disability Etiquette A to Z cartoon image