Simple Disability Etiquette

Using good disability etiquette is actually very easy, so don’t let worry or fear get in the way. It is not about being ‘politically correct’; it is about basic courtesy, respect and common sense. Just a few simple rules will help you to break down immediate barriers when communicating with and recruiting disabled people:

• first of all, talk directly to the individual (not to their companion or support  worker) and try to maintain eye contact

• try not to feel embarrassed. The first time you come across an individual with a particular disability, it is perfectly acceptable to ask the person concerned what support or adjustments in the workplace, if any, are needed. They are the experts on their condition after all

• focus on what people can do, do not assume ability or disability

• treat adults as adults and as you would wish to be treated yourself

• disability doesn’t equal ill health. Although some disabilities may have healthrelated issues, most disabled people are no more likely to become ill than anyone else

• a person’s appearance is not related to their intelligence or ability. Look beyond the surface to their skills  

• assumptions are often based on stereotypes not facts.

• remember that disability is not always visible. There are many hidden disabilities, such as heart conditions, diabetes and mental distress

• medical details are private and this should always be remembered, so avoid asking unnecessary personal questions

• disabled people should not be touched anymore than you would touch any other adult. Ask before helping a blind person or a wheelchair user

By acknowledging disabled people and their individual differences you are less likely to be worried about causing offence. Most people would rather be included and acknowledged despite the use of the odd incorrect word, than be excluded.

If a disability requires some adjustment at work so a person can give of their best, usually the individual and their supervisor can find ways to deal with this.

How to say the right thing
You may not be aware that certain words or phrases can upset some people, so we have listed the most common below. But, do not worry so much about saying the wrong thing that you avoid talking to disabled people completely.

Finally, perhaps the best advice is to relax, treat every person with respect, and as an individual human being. If you are unsure, ask. Look at the person and their ability.

Don’t say: ‘Person/people with disability/disabilities, PWD’.

Say: ‘Disabled person/people’ e.g.‘Minister for Disabled People’.

Don’t say: ‘The disabled’, ‘the blind’, ‘the deaf’ etc.

Say: ‘Disabled people’, ‘blind people’,‘deaf people’

Don’t say: ‘Fit’ or ‘Able-bodied’ – these phrases in effect set disabled people apart from others.

Say ‘Non-disabled’ NB – using the word ‘fit’ suggests that disabled people are always ‘sick’ which is a major and negative misconception. Similarly, able bodied suggests disabled people are not ‘able’.

Don’t say: ‘Handicapped’, ‘special needs’.

Say: ‘Disabled’ – the word ‘handicapped’ is offensive to many people.

Don’t say: ‘Mentally handicapped’, ‘slow’, ‘retarded’, ‘backward’, ‘E.S.N’, ‘mentally challenged’.

Say: ‘Learning disability’. The other words are vague, misleading and rude.

Don’t say: ‘Wheelchair bound…. Confined to a wheelchair’.

Say: ‘Wheelchair user’.

Don’t say: ‘A person who is epileptic, dyslexic’ etc. Referring to someone as a condition is insulting and limiting.

Say: ‘A person who has epilepsy’ or ‘A person with dyslexia’ etc.

Don’t say: ‘Deaf and dumb’, ‘Dumb’ has become associated with low intelligence.

Say: ‘Deaf without speech’ or some people prefer simply ‘Deaf’.

Don’t say: ‘Mentally unstable’, ‘Disturbed’, ‘mentally ill’.

Say: ‘Mental distress, emotional distress’ or ‘mental health conditions’.

Don’t say: ‘Low achiever’, ‘underachiever’. These terms are offensive,prejudicial and misleading.

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