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Disability Communication: Etiquette & Communication Methods

  • Synopsis: Information concerning appropriate methods and etiquette when communicating with a person with a disability or health condition.

Definition: Etiquette

Etiquette is defined as a code of behavior that delineates expectations for social behavior according to contemporary conventional norms within a society, social class, or group. Manners is a term usually preceded by the word good or bad to indicate whether or not a behavior is socially acceptable.

Main Document

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.


Etiquette considered appropriate when interacting with people with disabilities is based primarily on respect and courtesy.


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," "the retarded" 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.

Tips for Communicating with Individuals with Cognitive Disabilities

Tips for Communicating with Individuals Who are Blind or Visually Impaired

Tips for Communicating with Individuals with Speech Impairments

Tips for Communicating with Individuals Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Tips for Communicating with Individuals with Mobility Impairments

General Tips for Communicating with People with Disabilities


Affirmative PhrasesNegative Phrases
person with an intellectual, cognitive, developmental disabilityretarded; mentally defective
person who is blind, person who is visually impairedthe blind
person with a disabilitythe disabled; handicapped
person who is deafthe deaf; deaf and dumb
person who is hard of hearingsuffers a hearing loss
person who has multiple sclerosisafflicted by MS
person with cerebral palsyCP victim
person with epilepsy, person with
seizure disorder
person who uses a wheelchairconfined or restricted to a wheelchair
person who has muscular dystrophystricken by MD
person with a physical disability, physically disabledcrippled; lame; deformed
unable to speak, uses synthetic speechdumb; mute
person with psychiatric disabilitycrazy; nuts
person who is successful, productivehas overcome his/her disability; is courageous (when it implies the person has courage because of having a disability)

Some information from the Office of Disability Employment Policy and The U.S. Department of Labor

Latest Communication Information Publications

  1. What's (wrong) in a Name : Compensation and Kaabil
    Kaabil falls in a list of works collectively called compensatory literature - the bother starts with the name itself.
  2. Research Reveals Stuttering Related to Brain Circuits That Control Speech Production
    Researchers conduct first study of its kind, using proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to look at brain regions in both adults and children who stutter.
  3. Justice Department Revises Regulations to Require Closed Movie Captioning and Audio Description for People with Disabilities
    Final rule requires movie theaters to have and maintain equipment necessary to provide closed movie captioning and audio description delivered to a movie patrons seat and available only to that person.
  4. Human Behavior: The 4 Basic Personality Types
    Human behavior study reveals 90% of people can be classified into personality types: optimistic, pessimistic, trusting and envious.
  5. FCC Approves Proposal to Utilize Real-time Text to Aid People with Disabilities
    Commission moves forward on accessibility proposal to modernize wireless phone compatibility with advanced text communications.

Full List of Communication Information Documents (78 Items)


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