Disability Etiquette

Disability Etiquette

Our personal experiences, education and media exposure all shape our beliefs and attitudes about disability. Our awareness of these perceptions and how they influence our actions is key to defusing myths about disability.

Common misconceptions

  • People with disabilities cannot be successful.
  • Students with learning disabilities are unmotivated.
  • Anyone who uses a wheelchair is chronically ill or sick.
  • People with disabilities are more comfortable with their “own kind.”
  • Individuals with speech impairments also have cognitive deficits.
  • People with disabilities are always in need of “special” help.

Guidelines for talking about disabilities

  • Refer to a person’s disability only if it is relevant.
  • Do not portray people with disabilities as overly courageous, brave or special.
  • Use “People First” language. Place the person before the disability — doing so promotes equality. 

Interaction tips

  • Do not be afraid to make a mistake when meeting and communicating with someone with a disability.
  • Keep in mind that a person who has a disability is a person and is entitled to the same dignity, consideration, respect and rights you expect for yourself.
  • When introduced to someone with a disability, it is OK to offer to shake hands.
  • Use a normal tone of voice unless requested to speak louder.
  • Look and speak directly to the person with a disability even if an interpreter or companion is present.
  • When addressing a person in a wheelchair, try to situate yourself at eye level.
  • Offer assistance in a dignified manner with sensitivity and respect.  If the person declines your assistance, do not insist. If you do not know what to do, ask how you can help and follow the individual’s directions.
  • Treat adults in a manner befitting adults.