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Disability Etiquette

At the center of disability etiquette is respect. People with disabilities don’t want to be identified by their disability. No one wants to be lumped together in a group based on outward appearance or ability. It’s impossible to get 100% agreement on this, but here are some widely accepted guidelines. Individuals should not be perceived as only disabled. “People First” means the person is more important than the disability.

People First Language

“People First” starts with language. When describing a person with a disability, always place the term "person" or "individual" before the disability. For example, instead of saying "blind person," say a "person who is blind."  By consciously putting the individual in front of the disability, the emphasis is on humanity, rather than disability. The term "Handicapped" is considered offensive and inappropriate. It derives from an antiquated idea that people with disabilities had to beg with "cap in hand." If a student is blind, it’s OK to use phrases like "See you later" and refer to visual appearances. And it’s OK to talk about music and sounds with people who are deaf.

Beyond Language

If working with disabilities is new for you, just remember that it’s always about communication. It’s OK to acknowledge the individuals and technologies that are assisting, but keep the focus on the student. When students use an interpreter to communicate, always address the student directly. When a student is using assistive technology or a relay service, the pace may seem extremely slow, so have plenty of extra patience. Never assume that a student will or will not be able to perform a specific task or be successful. When a student discloses their disability to you, ask them questions about anything that might be an issue of access. Do not try to come up with accommodations, unless you are a DSPS counselor and that is part of your job. Always refer students to the disabilities office of the college. Questions about accessibility of course materials should be directed towards the course instructor and the disability services office of the college. Never disclose a student's disability status to an instructor or to anyone except the appropriate people in the disabilities office.

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