Use Person-First Terms
Disability etiquette begins with using terms that
Person-first terms communicate that you
recognize a person is more significant than whatever his or
her disability may be.
Instead of "Sue is a disabled person,"
say, "Sue is a person with a
Why? Sue's personhood is not disabled. She happens
to have a disability.
Instead of "John is wheelchair-bound," say,
"John uses a wheelchair."
Why? The wheelchair
does not control John. John controls the wheelchair.
Reference a person's disability only if it is
relevant to his situation.
More on Disability Etiquette
Don’t ask “What’s wrong with you?” or “How long have you been
Speak directly and respectfully to a person with a
disability rather than to their interpreter, attendant,
companion, friend or family member.
Greet a person with a service animal first, and only
approach the animal if invited to do so. Service animals are
Ask before taking any sort of action to help someone.
If you offer assistance, wait until the offer is accepted.
Then listen or ask for instructions.
Use "accessible parking” or “accessible stall” instead
of “handicapped parking” and "handicapped stall."
Do not portray people with disabilities as overly
courageous, brave, special, or superhuman. This sounds as if
it is unusual for them to have talents and skills or to live
life like everyone else.
Listen attentively to people whose disability affects
their speech. Wait for them to finish. If necessary,
ask short questions that require short answers, or that can
be answered with a nod of the head. Never pretend to
understand; instead repeat what you have understood and allow
the person to respond. Never talk down or shout at a
person. Speak in a normal tone of voice.
Do not pat a person who uses a wheelchair on the head or
shoulder or lean against or place your hand on their
wheelchair. People with disabilities think of their mobility
devices as extensions of their bodies.
Identify yourself and others who may be with you when
meeting a person with a visual disability. When conversing in
a group, remember to identify the person to whom you are
Do not feel uncomfortable about using expressions such as
"taking a walk" with a person who uses a wheelchair
or "see you later" with a person who is blind. The
meaning is understood.
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