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Disability Communication: Etiquette & Communication Methods

  • Synopsis: Last Revised/Updated: 2015-03-17 - Information concerning appropriate methods and etiquette when communicating with a person with a disability or health condition.

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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 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.


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 : How to Take Control of Your Facebook : Facebook.
2 : Our Digital Remains Should be Treated with Same Care and Respect as Physical Remains : University of Oxford.
3 : Smartphone Addiction is More Addiction to Social Interaction : Frontiers.
4 : Cognition and Emotion Play a Role in Predicting Quality of Children's Friendships : University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.
5 : Stuttering: Stop Signals in the Brain Prevent Fluent Speech : Max-Planck-Gesellschaft.
Click Here for Full List - (87 Items)

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