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Disability Etiquette

Many people do not know what to say or how to act when they meet someone with a disability. Treat someone with a disability as you would like to be treated and you can't go wrong. Here is a brief list of tips to help in communicating with someone with a disability.

  • When talking with a person with a disability, speak directly to that person rather than through a companion or sign language interpreter. Be patient if someone uses a device in order to communicate. Never pretend to understand someone, simply ask questions if you do not understand and they will correct it if necessary.
  • To get the attention of person who is deaf, tap the person on the shoulder or wave your hand. Look directly at the person and speak clearly, slowly, and expressively to determine if the person can read your lips.
  • When meeting a person who is visually impaired, always identify yourself and others who may be with you.
  • Leaning on or hanging on to a person's wheelchair is an invasion of personal space and property.
  • Place yourself at eye level with anyone who uses a wheelchair or crutches or who has physical limitations.
  • If you offer assistance, wait until the offer is accepted. Then listen or ask for instructions. The worst they can do is say "No, thank you".
  • When writing or need proper language, avoid all negative connotations or attitudes. Make reference to the person or persons first and then the disability, i.e., "a person with a disability" rather than "disabled person".
  • Most importantly, relax and just be yourself. Remember that they are people first and disabled second.

When writing or speaking about people with disabilities, it is important to put the person first. Group designations such as "the blind" or "the retarded," are inappropriate because they do not reflect the individuality, equality or dignity of people with disabilities. Below is a listing of appropriate phrases and descriptions. Always remember: Positive language empowers.

Words With Dignity

  • Physically disabled
  • Deaf person/hearing impaired
  • Person in a wheelchair/person who uses a wheelchair

Words Not to Use

  • Handicap
  • Birth defect/incapacitated
  • Deaf and dumb
  • Wheelchair bound
  • Confined to a wheelchair
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