Disability Awareness Information


People First Language

 (Taken from the Utah Developmental Disabilities People First Web page-Adult Language Booklet, Page 1)
Who are People with Disabilities?    
People with disabilities are first and foremost People.   They are people who have individual abilities interests and needs.  For the most part, they are ordinary individuals seeking to live ordinary lives.  People with Disabilities are moms, dads, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends, neighbors, coworkers, students, and teachers.  About 49 million Americans (one out of every five individuals) have a disability.  Their contributions  Enrich our communities and society as they live and share their lives.  
Changing Images 
Historically, people with disabilities have been regarded as individuals to be pitied, feared or ignored. People with disabilities continue to seek accurate portrayals that present a respectful, positive view of individuals as active participants of society, in regular social, work and home environments. 
Eliminating Stereotypes
Every individual regardless of  sex, age, race or ability deserves  to be treated with dignity and  respect.  As part of the effort to end discrimination and segregation in employment education and our communities, it is important to eliminate prejudicial language.   Like other minorities, the people with disabilities developed preferred terminology called PEOPLE FIRST LANGUAGE. More then a fad or political correctness, People First Language is an objective way of discussing disability issues.  It eliminates generalizations, assumptions and stereotypes by focusing on the person rather discussing disability issues.  It eiminates generalizations, assumptions an  stereotypes by focusing on the
person rather then the disability.   As the term implies People First Language refers to the individual first and disability second.  It's the difference in saying "autistic child" and "a child with autism."   While some people may not use People First Language, it's important you don't repeat negative terms that stereotype, devalue or discriminate, just as you would avoid racial slurs.  Most of the time the disability isn't even relevant to the conversation you may be having.  
What should I say?
Be sensitive when choosing words you use.  Here are a few guidelines on appropriate language. 


Disability Etiquette

(Taken from an article by Richard C. Senelick, MD, neurologist, author, blogger and international speaker.)
The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in July 1990 and with it came a mandate to end discrimination against individuals with disabilities. While the law protects people with disabilities, it does not automatically educate the public on the correct way to interact with people with disabilities. For many people, meeting someone in a wheelchair or with a significant disability creates an awkward moment when they are unsure how to behave.

The Greeting

• What would you do when faced with someone with a paralyzed or missing right arm? Most people, even those with a prosthetic arm or hand, can shake hands. It is appropriate to use your left hand if the person cannot respond with their right hand. The disabled person will usually give you a cue by extending an arm or hand as best they can. It is best not to just go ahead and grab an arm that may turn out to be a painful experience for the person. The "good old buddy" pat on the back or shoulder is never appropriate behavior.

• Have you ever noticed that when you speak to someone who doesn't understand English that you tend to raise your voice, thinking that somehow shouting the words will rattle their brain into understanding? We do the same thing when we address people with disabilities. There is usually no need to raise your voice. However, when someone has a cognitive impairment it can help to slow down and speak clearly. Use their first name only if everyone else is being referred to by their first name. Better yet, ask for their preference. This is a common mistake amongst physicians who refer to their patients informally but, then want the patient to call them "Doctor".

• Treat the person as an adult. Don't patronize the individual because they have a physical or mental disability. Don't pat people in wheelchairs on the head or shoulder in place of a proper greeting. Sit down and make eye contact. This is critical! When you are seated in your office and someone enters, don't you usually stand up to greet them? When speaking to someone in a wheelchair or lying in bed, look around, pull up a chair, sit down and get at eye level. I remember being a patient in the hospital and how uncomfortable I felt lying in the bed and trying to have a conversation with my physician as he towered over me. Don't sit on the patient's bed unless invited to do so. How would you like someone sitting on your clean linens?

• Some people want help, others do not. It is acceptable to ask if you can get the door, pick up their canes or push their wheelchair. But don't feel hurt if your offer is declined and the person wishes to be independent.

Conversational Etiquette

You made it through the greeting and introductions. Now what?
• Always speak to the disabled individual directly and not through someone else. As physicians, we make this mistake all the time. We will speak to family members and friends instead of addressing the person directly. Even if the person has a cognitive disability, their presence must be recognized and respected. People are individuals who happen to have disabilities and should not be addressed as "the T4 paraplegic in the corner" or the "stroke in room 603."

• When having a conversation with a person with a physical disability, use normal everyday language and relax. We can slip into an unpleasant and demeaning habit of speaking to the disabled person as if they were a child. You may have to make a physical accommodation, such as sitting down. Remember, the individual is otherwise no different than you.

• Most of us are poor listeners. When someone has a speech impairment, take your time and listen. Don't try to always finish their sentence. That can be difficult when you are in a hurry, but never to pretend to understand if you do not -- it is acceptable to say so. If the person has a visual impairment, identify yourself and let them know where you are what you intend to do.

Disability Etiquette

(Taken from the University of Northern Iowa's Office of Compliance and Equity Management)

If you have not had many interactions with persons with disabilities, you may not know exactly how to act. For example, you may ask yourself “how do I talk to someone in a wheelchair?” or “how do I interact with someone who is blind or deaf?” This article provides some guidelines to ensure respectful and equal treatment of people with disabilities.

Things to remember

 Disability Etiquette

  Speech Disability Etiquette

Wheelchair Etiquette

 Hearing Disability Etiquette

Visual Disability Etiquette

Words and phrases guidelines


Disability vs. Handicap

Always remember that the person is not the condition. Keep all your speech person focused, not disability focused.



A person with a disability



Handicap; handicapped person

A person who has mental or developmental disabilities

Moron; retarded; feebleminded

Able-bodied; able to walk, see, etc

Healthy; normal- Just because someone has a disability does not mean they are not healthy

A wheelchair user; walks with aid Confined/restricted to a wheelchair
Mental or emotional disability Crazy; insane
A person who is deaf/ hearing impairment Deaf and dumb; mute
A person with epilepsy An epileptic

He has cerebral palsy

He is a cerebral palsy victim
A successful/productive person

Person who has overcome his/her disability.

Person who is courageous.


Avoid terms which carry a negative connotation:

Abnormal, Afflicted, Confined, Crippled, Defective, Handicap, Invalid, Lame, Palsied, Retarded, Stricken, Sufferer, Victim, Withered

Use empowering, individualized vocabulary; don't clump them with phrases like "the blind" or "the disabled."


Employment Do’s and Don'ts:







Guide To Etiquette And Behavior For Working With Persons With Disabilities

By Thomas E. Grayson, Instructor.   

-This online guide discusses etiquette specific to the following disabilities:  blind and visually impaired, deaf and hearing impaired, wheelchair use, speech impairments.

-To view a guide for Reasonable Accommodation in the Workplace, go to the City of Sacramento web site.

-To download the United Spinal Association's Disability Etiquette booklet, visit their online site.

-To view the Courtesy Rules of Blindness, visit the Blind net web site.


Caregiver's Bill of Rights

by Jo Horne
Author of Caregiving: Helping an Aging Loved One

I have the right:
To take care of myself. This is not an act of selfishness. It will enable me to take better care of my loved one.

I have the right:
To seek help from others even though my loved one may object. I recognize the limits of my own endurance and strength.

I have the right:
To maintain facets of my own life that do not include the person I care for, just as I would if he or she were healthy. I know that I do everything that I reasonably can for this person, and I have the right to do some things for myself.

I have the right:
To get angry, be depressed and express other difficult emotions occasionally.

I have the right:
To reject any attempt by my loved one (either conscious or unconscious) to manipulate me through guilt, anger or depression.

I have the right:
To receive consideration, affection, forgiveness and acceptance from my loved one for as long as I offer these qualities in return.

I have the right:
To take pride in what I am accomplishing and to applaud the courage it sometimes takes to meet the needs of my loved one.

I have the right:
To protect my individuality and my right to make a life for myself that will sustain me when my loved one no longer needs my full-time help.

I have the right:
To expect and demand that as new strides are made in finding resources to aid physically and mentally impaired persons in our country, similar strides will be made toward aiding and supporting caregivers.