Disability Etiquette

Communicating with and about people with disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act, other laws and the efforts of many disability organizations have made strides in improving accessibility in buildings, increasing access to education, opening employment opportunities and developing realistic portrayals of persons with disabilities in television programming and motion pictures.

Where progress is still needed is in communication and interaction with people with disabilities. Individuals are sometimes concerned that they will say the wrong thing, so they say nothing at all—thus further segregating people with disabilities. Listed here are some suggestions on how to relate to and communicate with and about people with disabilities.

Words

Positive language empowers. When writing or speaking about people with disabilities, it is important to put the person first. Group designations such as “the blind” or “the disabled” are inappropriate because they do not reflect the individuality, equality or dignity of people with disabilities. Further, words like “normal person” imply that the person with a disability isn’t normal, whereas “person without a disability” is descriptive but not negative. The accompanying chart shows examples of positive and negative phrases.

General tips for communicating with people with disabilities

  • When introduced to a person with a disability, it is appropriate to offer to shake hands. People with limited hand use or who wear an artificial limb can usually shake hands. (Shaking hands with the left hand is an acceptable greeting.)
  • If you offer assistance, wait until the offer is accepted. Then listen to or ask for instructions.
  • Treat adults as adults. Address people who have disabilities by their first names only when extending the same familiarity to all others.
  • Don’t be embarrassed if you happen to use common expressions such as “See you later,” or “Did you hear about that?” that seem to relate to a person’s disability.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you’re unsure of what to do.

Remember

  • Treat the individual with dignity, respect and courtesy.
  • Listen to the individual.
  • Offer assistance but do not insist or be offended if your offer is not accepted.

For tips on the following, and more, visit: https://www.dol.gov/odep/pubs/fact/communicating.htm

  • Communicating with individuals who are blind or visually impaired
  • Communicating with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing
  • Communicating with individuals with mobility impairments
  • Communicating with individuals with speech impairments
  • Communicating with individuals with cognitive disabilities

 Source: U.S. Dept. of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy