with Students Who Have Disabilities
You may find the following tips concerning appropriate language
and interaction with disabled individuals helpful.
- People with disabilities are people first. The Americans with
Disabilities Act officially changed the way we refer to people
with disabilities and provided the model that we should see
the person first, then the disability.
- Do use the word disability when referring to someone who has a physical, mental, emotional, sensory, or learning impairment.
- Do not use the word handicapped. A handicap is what a person with a disability cannot do.
- Avoid labeling individuals as victims, or the disabled, or names of conditions. Instead, refer to an individual as a person with a disability or someone who has, i.e., epilepsy.
- Avoid terms such as wheelchair bound. Wheelchairs do not bind; they provide access and enable individuals to get around. Instead, refer to a person who uses a wheelchair or as a person with mobility impairment.
- When it is appropriate to refer to an individual’s disability, choose the correct terminology for the specific disability. Use terms such as quadriplegia, speech impairment, hearing impairment, or the specific learning disability, like dyslexia.
- When introduced, offer to shake hands. People with limited hand use or artificial limbs can usually shake hands. It is an acceptable greeting in our culture to use the left hand for hand shaking.
- Treat adults as adults. Avoid patronizing people who use wheelchairs by patting them on the shoulder or touching their head. Never place your hands on a person’s wheelchair, since the chair is a part of the body space of the user.
- If possible, sit down when talking to a person who uses a wheelchair so that you are at the person’s eye level.
- Speak directly to the person with a disability. Do not communicate through another person. If the person uses an interpreter, look at the person and speak to the person; do not speak directly to the interpreter.
- Offer assistance with sensitivity and respect. Ask if there is something you might do to help. It the offer is declined, do not insist.
- If you are a sighted guide for a person with a visual impairment, allow the person to take your arm at or above the elbow so that you guide rather than propel.
- When talking with a person who has a speech impairment, listen
attentively, ask short questions that require short answers,
avoid correcting, and repeat what you understand if you are
- When first meeting a blind person, identify yourself and
any others who may be with you.
- When speaking to a person with a hearing impairment, look directly at the person and speak slowly. Avoid placing your hand over your mouth when speaking. Written notes may be helpful for short conversations.