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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.

Say:

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

 

Customer

 

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 www.disabilityisnatural.com

 


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