Spinal-Injury.net :  Meeting a Disabled Person


Meeting a Disabled Person

We are often asked how an able bodied person should act and talk in the presence of someone with a disability.  This short guide isn't intended to insult anyone's intelligence and it's content isn't law.  Hopefully you'll find some useful tips and pointers in it.

Do's and Don'ts When Interacting With People With Physical Disabilities


Respect the person's personal property (canes, wheelchairs, crutches, communication
boards, etc.). Unless given specific permission, do not move, play with, or use their
assistive devices.

Rearrange furniture if there is something blocking the way of their wheelchair.

Try to get on eye level with the person when talking to them, if possible.

Be considerate of the extra time it might take for a person with a disability to get things
done or said. Let the person set the pace in walking and talking.

Consider accessibility when choosing areas to hold gatherings, meetings, parties, etc.

Speak to the person who has the disability and not just someone with them. Be patient and
ask questions if you can't understand them.

Ask the person questions about their disability. Most people are very willing to share.

Let your child talk to people with disabilities. Understanding is the key to acceptance.

Ask the person if they need some help. The worst they can do is say "No, thank you."

Use proper terms when describing various disabilities (see below).

Treat the person just like you would treat a non-disabled person.

Carry on normal conversations with people with disabilities. They are most likely
interested in the same things that you are.

Emphasize the uniqueness and worth of all persons rather than the differences between
people. Concentrate on the person's achievements, abilities, and individual qualities.

Promote acceptance and understanding among all people.

Relax and just be yourself.


Talk down to the person or like they are a child (unless they really are a child).

Pat someone with a disability on the head. They are not pets or toys. They are people.

Lean on the person's wheelchair when you are near them. The chair is part of their personal

Assume that the person can shake hands with you. Not everyone can shake hands. Try a nod or a smile instead.

Stare at the person. They are not a picture to be examined.

Be embarrassed if you happen to use accepted common expressions such as "Must Dash" "See you later"
or "Got to be running along" that seem to relate to the person's disability.

Use terms such as crippled, victim, deformed, retarded, etc. when describing the person.
(see below for alternative words)

Talk about the person like they are not in the room.

Focus on the disability. ALWAYS concentrate on the individual.

Make decisions for the person. They know what they like, what they don't like, and what they can and cannot do.

Exclude people with disabilities from participating in anything because you think it may be too difficult for them to participate.

Judge the person by their looks or by their equipment.

Acceptable Disability Terms

Disability Definition -- a condition caused by an accident, trauma, genetics or disease, which may limit a person's mobility, hearing, vision, speech or mental function. Some people with disabilities have one or more disabilities.

Glossary of Acceptable Terms

Acceptable: Person with a disability.
Unacceptable: Cripple, cripples - the image conveyed is of a twisted, deformed, useless body.

Acceptable: Disability, a general term used for functional limitation that interferes with a person's ability, for example, to walk, hear or lift. It may refer to a physical, mental or sensory condition.
Unacceptable: Handicap, handicapped person or handicapped.

Acceptable: People with cerebral palsy, people with spinal cord injuries.
Unacceptable: Cerebral palsied, spinal cord injured, etc. Never identify people solely by their disability.

Acceptable: Person who had a spinal cord injury, polio, a stroke, etc. or a person who has multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, arthritis, etc.
Unacceptable: Victim. People with disabilities do not like to be perceived as victims for the rest of their lives, long after any victimization has occurred.

Acceptable: Has a disability, has a condition of (spina bifida, etc.), or born without legs, etc.
Unacceptable: Defective, defect, deformed, vegetable. These words are offensive, dehumanizing, degrading and stigmatizing.

Acceptable: Deafness/hearing impairment. Deafness refers to a person who has a total loss of hearing. Hearing impairment refers to a person who has a partial loss of hearing within a range from slight to severe. Hard of hearing describes a hearing-impaired person who communicates through speaking and spear-heading, and who usually has listening and hearing abilities adequate for ordinary telephone communication. Many hard of hearing individuals use a hearing aid.
Unacceptable: Deaf and Dumb is as bad as it sounds. The inability to hear or speak does not indicate intelligence.

Acceptable: Person who has a mental or developmental disability.
Unacceptable: Retarded, moron, imbecile, idiot. These are offensive to people who bear the label.

Acceptable: Use a wheelchair or crutches; a wheelchair user; walks with crutches.
Unacceptable: Confined/restricted to a wheelchair; wheelchair bound. Most people who use a wheelchair or mobility devices do not regard them as confining. They are viewed as liberating; a means of getting around.

Acceptable: Able-bodied; able to walk, see, hear, etc.; people who are not disabled.
Unacceptable: Healthy, when used to contrast with "disabled." Healthy implies that the person with a disability is unhealthy. Many people with disabilities have excellent health.

Acceptable: People who do not have a disability.
Unacceptable: Normal. When used as the opposite of disabled, this implies that the person is abnormal. No one wants to be labeled as abnormal.

Acceptable: A person who has (name of disability.) Example: A person who has multiple sclerosis.
Unacceptable: Afflicted with, suffers from. Most people with disabilities do not regard themselves as afflicted or suffering continually.
afflicted: a disability is not an affliction.


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