General Etiquette


As an educator and a professional, you should be aware that your behavior and the language you use can create a negative or positive view of people with disabilities. The following guidelines, reflecting input from over 100 national disability organizations and experts, may help you to project a sensitive non-discriminatory manner.


  • Put people first, not their disability.

  • Emphasize abilities, not limitations…

  • Show people with disabilities as active participants…

  • Be supportive, but not overly solicitous

Do Not

  • Use generic labels for disability groups

  • Focus on the disability—focus, instead, on the issues

  • Refer to people with disabilities as patients or "cases"

Preferred Language

People with disabilities:

  • prefer to be called "people with disabilities," not "disabled people"

  • are not conditions or diseases; they are individuals first and only secondarily do they have one or more disabling conditions.

  • Acceptable/Preferred Terms

    Person/persons with a disability

    People with cerebral palsy, people with a spinal cord injury, muscular dystrophy, etc.

    Deafness/hearing impairment "Deafness" refers to a person who has partial loss of hearing within a range of mild to severe.

    Person with a speech disorder, or person without speech.

    Person who has a mental or psychiatric disability, or emotional disorder.

    Person who has a mental or developmental disability.

    Uses a wheelchair or crutches; a wheelchair user; walks with crutches

    Stroke/Cancer survivor

    People who do not have a disability; non-disabled

  • Unacceptable Terms

    Handicap, handicapped person

    Cerebral palsied, spinal cord injured people, etc. Never identify people solely by their disability.

    Deaf and dumb--is as bad as it sounds. Inability to hear or speak does not suggest less intelligence.

    Dumb [see above]; mute

    Psycho, nut, lunatic, crazy, schizo, psychiatric, schizophrenic


    Confined/Restricted to a wheelchair, wheelchair bound. Most people who use a wheelchair or mobility devices do not regard them as confining

    Stroke/Cancer Victim

    People who do not have a disability - Normal--When in use as the opposite of "disabled," implies the person with a disability is abnormal. Also inappropriate are "able-bodied" "healthy" or "whole."

Adapted from Oklahoma Disability Etiquette Handbook, from the Office of Handicapped Concerns, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 1993 and Guidelines for Reporting and Writing about People with Disabilities, University of Kansas -Research and Training center on Independent Living, 1996)

Return to Guide to Accommodations