Information on Interacting with People with Disabilities

As greater numbers of persons with disabilities take advantage of the opportunities open to them in higher education, it becomes increasingly important that colleges and universities promote an environment that is positive for persons with disabilities. One of the strongest and easiest ways is appropriate language usage.

The recommended manner is known as “person first” language. This means that the person is emphasized first, the disability second.

Acceptable Terms Unacceptable Terms
Person with a disability Handicapped person
Individual without speech Mute, dumb
Student who is deaf or hearing-impaired Deaf student
Person who has a mental illness or psychiatric disability Crazy, schizo, psycho, nuts
Student with a developmental disability Retarded, idiot
Individual who uses a wheelchair or wheelchair user Confined/restricted to a wheelchair, wheelchair bound
Student who has a learning disability Slow learner, learning-disabled


  • Disability Etiquette Handbook: City of San Antonio Access Office
  • The City of San Antonio, Texas Planning Department and the Disability Advisory Committee have prepared this Disability Etiquette Handbook to enhance opportunities for persons with disabilities to pursue their careers and independent lifestyles.  The Disability Etiquette Handbook is yet another step toward making San Antonio one of the most accessible cities in the nation. It contains information that can help make San Antonio a better place for all who visit, live and work here.
  • Marist College’s Disability Etiquette – Tips on Interacting with People with Disabilities
    People with disabilities are individuals with families, jobs, hobbies, likes and dislikes, problems and joys. While the disability is an integral part of who they are, it alone does not define them. Don’t make them into disability heroes or victims. Treat them as individuals.
  • United Spinal Association: Disability Etiquette
    United Spinal Association was founded in 1946 by veterans with spinal cord injuries to help enable members, as well as others with disabilities, to lead full and productive lives. You don’t have to feel awkward when dealing with a person who has a disability. This booklet provides some basic tips for you to follow. And if you are ever unsure about what to do or say with a person who has a disability, just ask!
  • “How to Talk to a Person with Disabilities without Sounding like an A-Hole”
    Review The Mobility Resource writer Tiffiny Carlson’s 10 must-know, and straight forward, tips on how to be comfortable and respectful while speaking to an individual with disabilities.
  • Interacting with Students Who Have Disabilities
    The Texas Collaborative for Teaching Excellence provides a list of appropriate language and interactions.