Disability language and etiquette by Karen Ozmun and Roxanne Vierra, King
County's Office of Civil Rights Language Language is continually evolving,
and that includes language related to people with disabilities. Staying
current is important, not to show that you are "politically correct" but to
communicate effectively and with respect.
What you say and write may enhance the dignity of people with disabilities
or inadvertently reflect stereotypes and negative attitudes.
Some words and phrases don't recognize the broad range of capabilities of
people with disabilities. People with disabilities don't need or want to be
pitied, nor should they be deemed "courageous" or "special" as they
accomplish daily activities or work.
Remember, refer to the person first, not the disability. For example, "the
person who uses a wheelchair" or "the person who has arthritis" is
preferred over "the wheelchair user" or "the arthritic." This last term
defines the disability as the person rather than as one aspect of his/her
life. Also, mention the disability only when it is relevant to the
"Handicap" and "disability" are not synonyms! Disability is a generic term
for a condition which may affect a person's mobility, hearing, vision,
speech, or cognitive function (such as paraplegia, deafness, AIDS).
Handicap describes a barrier that is environmental or attitudinal (such as
or elevator, information not available in Braille, negative stereotypes).
If you've never directly interacted with someone with a disability, it is
not unusual to feel uncertain about what to do. Here are a just a few tips.
Shaking hands is usually welcome. People with limited hand use or who wear
an artificial limb can usually shake hands. Shaking hands with the left
hand is an acceptable greeting. With some, you may want to take the cue
individual with a disability. (If someone is blind, she won't see your
extended hand; wait to see if she extends hers.)
When talking with a disabled person, look at and speak directly to that
person rather than to a companion, aide, or sign language interpreter.
Common words and phrases are OK to use. For example, it's OK to say "see
you later" to a blind person, or "Do you want to go for a walk?" to someone
uses a wheelchair.
For more detailed information about effective communications with people
with disabilities, contact the Office of Civil Rights Disability Compliance
Specialists: Karen Ozmun 296-7706 and Roxanne Vierra, 296-7705, TTY calls
If you would like me (Joy Wallace) to send you an attachment of a Word file
explaining which terms may be offensive and suggesting more appropriate
language, please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This email@example.com listserv provides information about issues,
strategies and resources regarding educational equity. The Equity Forum is
sponsored by the National Institute for Community Innovations (
http://nici-mc2.org) For assistance in using this listserv
please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please invite other members of your equity team to subscribe by sending
their email address to: email@example.com
Please also post your equity updates to the list by sending your messages
firstname.lastname@example.org is moderated by Joy Wallace (email@example.com)
firstname.lastname@example.org archives can be read at this URL:
Select "GL Communicator" icon at top of screen. In next window enter the
list you want to go to, and enter your email address. At the next window
select "Archive" icon at top.
enter your email address and the list name: email@example.com , in the
'anonymous access' login.
To unsubscribe, send your email address as the text of a message to:
Please note, in order to subscribe to additional NICI listservs on
education topics, navigate to:
This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.2 : Mon Apr 15 2002 - 09:57:59 EDT