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Disability Etiquette

Disability etiquette encourages goodwill and respect among all individuals. It helps make society more inclusive for everyone.

Terminology Tips

Use "People First" Language

Refer to the individual first, then to his or her disability, when it is relevant and appropriate.  Say "person with a disability" rather than "disabled person".

The following terms should be avoided in a disability context because they have negative meanings:

  • Invalid
  • Wheelchair-bound
  • Defect
  • Handicapped
  • Victim
  • Suffers from
  • Crippled 
  • A patient


Labels Not to Use People First Language
The handicapped or the disabled People with disabilities
The mentally retarded or he is retarted People with mental retardation or he has a cognitive impairment
The autistic child The child has autism
She is Down's; she is mongoloid She has Down Syndrome
Birth defect Has a congenital disability
Epileptic A person with epilepsy
Wheelchair-bound or confined to a wheelchair Uses a wheelchair or mobility chair, or is a wheelchair user
She is developmentally delayed She has a developmental delay
He is crippled or lame He has a physical disability
She is a dwarf or midget She has short stature, she is a little person
Mute Communicates with her eyes/device, etc.
Is learning disabled Has a learning disability
Normal and/or healthy A person without a disability
Quadriplegic, paraplegic, etc. He has quadriplegia, paraplegia, etc.
She is in Special Ed She receives Special Ed services
Handicapped parking, hotel room, etc. Accessible parking, hotel room, etc.
Client, consumer, recipient, etc. (e.g., when a person is making a purchase at a store) Customer
Afflicted with, suffers from, a victim of A person who has...
She is emotionally disturbed; she is crazy She has an emotional disability