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Disability Etiquette

Disability Etiquette

  • Treat adults with disabilities as you would any adult. Show respect.
  • When speaking to a person with a disability, speak directly to the person, rather than to their support professional.
  • When referring to a person with a disability, use person first language. For example, say “person with a disability” rather than “disabled person.”
  • Don’t assume a person wants assistance. Ask “may I help you?” before providing assistance.
  • If speaking to a person using a wheelchair for an extended period, try placing yourself at eye level.
  • When attempting to get the attention of a person who is deaf or has a hearing impairment, try tapping them on their shoulder or wave your hand. Be sure to speak in your normal tone.
  • When conversing with a person who is blind or has low vision, be sure to identify yourself. If you’re in person, it may help to identify where you’re standing. Be sure to indicate when you’re leaving the room. If walking with the person, it’s okay to offer an elbow or shoulder for support. Be sure to indicate when turning, stepping up or stepping down.

Words to Avoid

  • Invalid
  • Wheelchair bound
  • Retarded
  • Defect
  • Handicapped
  • Victim
  • Suffers from
  • Crippled
  • A patient

Also, refrain from referring to people without disabilities as “normal.” They are people without disabilities.

Disability advocates encourage us to refrain from “inspiration porn,” which refers to portraying individuals with disabilities as especially courageous, inspiring or brave.

Want More?

The D.C. Office of Disability Rights discusses general rules of etiquette for interacting with people with disabilities. The toolkit includes videos, training resources and more.