Here are some tips on how to write and speak about people with developmental disabilities.
Be considerate before you speak
- When talking with a person with a disability, speak directly to that person, rather than through a companion, aide or sign language interpreter.
- Making small talk with a person who has any type of disability is great, just talk with the person as you would with anyone else.
- If you are unsure, kindly ask the person with whom you are engaging what they prefer; it is always best to be respectful and person-centered.
- Additional information on using natural language is available: Life Without Labels and The Road Map to Every Day Conversations.
Be sensitive about physical contact
- Some people with disabilities depend on their arms for support.
- Grabbing their arms, even if your intention was to assist, could knock them off balance.
- Avoid patting a person on the head or touching their wheelchair, scooter or cane. Some people with disabilities consider their equipment part of their personal space, which is an extension of their bodies.
- RESPECT any type of person’s personal space.
- DO NOT lean on, hang from or hang your coat or bag on a person’s wheelchair. These things are similar to hanging or leaning on someone’s body and many people who use a wheelchair find this to be frustrating and disrespectful.
Ask before you help
- Just because a person has a disability, DO NOT assume that they need help.
- Adults with disabilities want to be treated as independent people and most can be as independent as any other person.
- Offer assistance, but don’t be offended when the person says, “No.”
- If the person wants assistance, ask how and let them tell you exactly what they need.
- Refer to persons or people with intellectual disabilities, rather than “intellectually disabled.”
- NOT the Deaf, but people who are Deaf (or hearing impaired).
- NOT the visually impaired, but people who are visually impaired.
- NOT the disabled, but people with disabilities or people who are disabled.
- NOT “suffering from” Muscular dystrophy or Cerebral palsy, but “person with” Muscular dystrophy or Cerebral palsy.
Positive language empowers
- Use words that stress equality and active participation.
- Avoid language that implies victimization or is patronizing.
- People have intellectual disabilities, rather than are “suffering from” “afflicted with” or a “victim of” intellectual disabilities.
- A person is physically challenged, disabled or handicapped, rather than “crippled.”
- A person “uses a wheelchair” or is a “wheelchair user,” rather than is “confined” or “restricted to” to a wheelchair.
- “Down syndrome” has replaced “Down’s Syndrome” and “mongoloid.”
Person with an intellectual, cognitive or
Person who is blind, visually impaired
Person who is hard of hearing
Person who uses a wheelchair
Person with a physical disability
Person with Cerebral palsy
Person who has epilepsy, person with a
Unable to speak, uses a speech device
retarded, mentally defective
suffers a hearing loss
confined, restricted to a wheelchair
crippled, lame, deformed
Tips for communicating with people who are Deaf or hard of hearing
- There is a range of communication preferences and styles among people with hearing loss. People with hearing impairments will inform you what works best for them.
- Face them the whole time you are speaking. Eye contact is very important.
- An expressive and mobile facial expression gives more clues than a passive one.
- Speak directly to the person, NOT their interpreter.
- Speak clearly. Most people who are hard of hearing count on watching people’s lips as they speak to help them understand.
- If you do not have a text telephone or teletypewriter (TTY), which is also known as a TDD, dial 711 to reach the national telecommunications relay service.
- If you receive a relay call, the operator will identify it as such. Please DO NOT hang up; for example this is the way that people who are deaf are able to place an order for pizza or call a store to find out their hours.
Tips for communicating with people who have visual impairments
- Speak in a normal tone of voice.
- Verbally give the person information that is visually obvious to people who can see.
- NEVER distract or touch a service dog without first asking the owner.
- When conversing in a group, remember to identify yourself and the person that you are speaking to.
Tips for communicating with people of any age who have mobility impairments
- If possible, put yourself at the eye level of the person using a wheelchair or walker. While talking with the person, stand back a few feet from that person or get a chair to sit on.
- If you telephone the person, let it ring as long as necessary to allow extra time for the person to reach the telephone.