Around 19 per cent of the population have a disability. Many of these will be unseen disabilities, such as epilepsy and mental health conditions. This means that you might not realise that someone is disabled. The way you speak about disabilities – your disability etiquette – demonstrates your, and your organisation’s values. Your language and behaviour can show that you respect people regardless of their background or ability. 

Don’t avoid disabled people because you are worried about saying the wrong thing. Here are some tips on getting your disability etiquette right:

  • There are some phrases which are common, which are fine to say. For example, it is ok to say ‘see you later’ to someone who is blind or visually impaired.
  • Don’t assume that someone who is deaf can lipread. It’s actually not that common.
  • Disabled people prefer to focus on their abilities. Avoid terms such as ‘suffer from’ or ‘the victim of’. It is much better to say someone has a condition. For example instead of ‘he suffers from epilepsy’, just say ‘he has epilepsy’.
  • Don’t describe someone in terms of their disability. Avoid things like she is diabetic; instead say she has diabetes.
  • Say that someone has a disability or condition. Never say that they are handicapped.
  • Never lean on or move people’s disability equipment, such as a wheelchair or cane. Those things are part of a disabled person’s personal space.
  • Finally, don’t make assumptions about what a disabled person can or can’t do. Speak to them as you would anyone else to find out what they want to do and can do by themselves.

More information

You can find out more about minding your P’s and Q’s on our website.


Source: Disability Facts and Figures 2016 Papworth Trust