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Disability Etiquette
Individuals Who are Blind or See Differently
• Identify yourself and introduce him/her to others who are in the group.
• Offer your arm – don’t take his/hers – if he/she needs to be guided.
• Guide a blind person’s hand to a banister to help direct him to a stairway.
• Describe the setting, noting any obstacles.
• If you are giving directions, give specific, non-visual information.
• If you need to leave a person who is blind, let him know.
• Don’t touch the person’s cane or guide dog. The dog is working.
• If the person has a guide dog, walk on the opposite side of the dog. The same goes for a cane.
• Offer to read written information.
• If you serve food to a person who is blind, let him know where everything is on the plate according to a clock orientation.
Individuals Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
• When the exchange of information is complex, use an interpreter.
• For simple interaction, writing back and forth is okay. May use computer technology to help.
• Follow the person’s cues to find out if she prefers sign language, gesturing, writing or speaking.
• When speaking, do not obscure your face.
• When using an interpreter, look directly at the person who is deaf.
• Talk directly to the person rather than the interpreter.
• Don’t decide for the person.
• Before speaking, make sure that you get her attention.
• Rephrase, rather than repeat, sentences.
• When talking, face the person.
• Speak clearly.
• There is no need to shout.
Individuals Who Use Wheelchairs or Have Mobility Impairments
• Don’t lean over someone in a wheelchair.
• Don’t push or touch a person’s wheelchair.
• Keep the ramps and wheelchair-accessible doors to your building unlocked and unblocked.
• When talking to a wheelchair user, sit at his/her level.
• Be sure that signs direct wheelchair users to the most-accessible ways around the facility.
• Don’t ask a wheelchair user to hold things for you.
Individuals With Speech Impairments
• Don’t interrupt or finish the person’s sentences.
• If you have trouble understanding, don’t nod. Instead, ask him to repeat.
• Ask him to write information down or to suggest another way of facilitating communication.
• A quiet environment makes communication easier.
• Don’t tease or laugh.
Provided by READI-Net, a program of the Alabama Department of Rehabiltation Services
For more information, call 205-290-4457.
Source: “Disability Etiquette,” United Spinal Association Language and Disability
Acceptable Terms Unacceptable Terms
Person – person with a disability.
Cripple, crippled – The image conveyed is of a twisted, deformed, useless body.
Disability – a general term used for functional limitation that interferes with a person’s ability, for example, to hear, walk, learn, or lift. It may refer to a physical, mental, or sensory condition.
Cerebral palsied, spinal cord injured, etc. Never identify people solely by their disability.
Person who has had a spinal cord injury, polio, a stroke, etc., or a person who has multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, arthritis, etc.
Victim – People with disabilities do not like to be perceived as victims for the rest of their lives, long after any victimization has occurred.
Has a disability, has a condition of (spina bifida, etc.), or born without legs, etc.
Defective, defect, deformed, vegetable – These words are offensive, dehumanizing, degrading, and stigmatizing.
Deafness/hearing impairment – “Deafness” refers to a person who has a total loss of hearing. “Hearing impairment” refers to a person who has a partial loss of hearing within a range from slight to severe.
Deaf and dumb – This is as bad as it sounds. Inability to hear or speak does not indicate less intelligence
Person who has a mental or developmental disability
Retarded, moron, imbecile, idiot – These are offensive to people who bear the label.
Uses a wheelchair or crutches; a wheelchair user; walks with crutches
Confined/restricted to a wheelchair, wheelchair-bound – Most people who use a wheelchair or mobility devices do not regard them as confining. They are viewed as liberating, a means of getting around.
Able-bodied: able to walk, see, hear, etc.; people who are not disabled.
Healthy – When used to contrast with “disability,” “healthy” implies the person with a disability is unhealthy. Many people with disabilities have excellent health.
People who do not have a disability
Normal – When used as the opposite of “disabled,” implies the person is abnormal. No one wants to be label abnormal.
A person who has (name the disability).
Example: A person who has multiple sclerosis.
Afflicted with/suffers from – Most people with disabilities don’t regard themselves as afflicted or suffering continually.
Afflicted – A disability is not an affliction; an affliction may have caused a disability.
Provided by READI-Net, a program of the Alabama Department of Rehabiltation Services
For more information, call 205-290-4457.
Source: Disability Etiquette Handbook, City of Chicago Department of Personnel

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