Disability Etiquette

In most ways, students with disabilities are just like other students. They need to be challenged, to be part of a group, to be accepted, and to succeed. Students with disabilities wish to be treated as individuals and not be singled out or stereotyped because of their disabilities.

The following general considerations are critical in assisting students with disabilities and assuring that they have the opportunity to meet their individual educational goals:

  • Remember that students with disabilities are "experts" regarding their condition. If you have questions concerning accommodations, the student will serve as your most valuable source. If further explanation is needed, feel free to contact Disabilities Services.
  • Few disabilities affect all areas of functioning. Most students find only a narrow range of activity affected by their particular disability.
  • Many persons find themselves feeling awkward, fearful, or self-conscious when interacting with persons with disabilities. Remember that simple common sense, courtesy, caring and experience will reduce these initial reactions.
  • Avoid actions that call attention to disabilities. For example, insisting that a student with a spinal cord injury sit "up front" where attention is drawn to their disability, or discussing the disability in front of the class.
  • It is important to make a statement at the beginning of each term that invites students to discuss their needs with you individually and privately. Include this invitation on your course syllabus.
  • Misconceptions and/or lack of knowledge concerning persons with disabilities occur frequently throughout society. Remember that the term "disabled" is not synonymous with cognitive impairment.
  • Remember that some students with disabilities will avoid the process of identification and/or accommodation to avoid being "labeled."
  • Language and/or behavior by instructors and staff members that serves to reaffirm inaccurate assumptions about persons with disabilities may cause offense, and serve to substantially impede the full and equal participation of students with disabilities in classroom and other activities. By changing how you communicate with people with disabilities, and by modifying a few features of your environment, you can show that you are committed to teaching a diverse population of students, including those with disabilities.

Some Suggestions Include:

  • Use "people first" language - The person precedes the disability, both figuratively and literally. For example, students with disabilities not disabled students.
  • Use disability rather than handicap - The word "disability" refers to the functional limitation attributable to a physical or mental impairment. The word "handicap" refers to the stigmatizing social consequences of the disability. For example, stairs, narrow doorways, and curbs are handicaps to people with disabilities who use wheelchairs. The term "accessible entrance" or "accessible parking" is preferred over "handicap entrance" or "handicap parking."
  • Avoid pity - People with disabilities are not victims nor should they be described as inspirational or courageous just because they have a disability.
  • Do not use adjectives as nouns - Use an adjective as a description, not a category or group, (i.e., person with epilepsy not an epileptic).

For further information on proper etiquette for discussing or interacting with people with various types of disabilities, please contact Disabilities Services at (231) 591-3057.