Disability Etiquette

General Tips

Students with disabilities are the same as other students and typical etiquette rules apply to them. However, in some instances, there are unique situations or characteristics that are evident for a student with a disability that may confuse the application of typical etiquette rules.

Further, not all students with disabilities will necessarily feel the same about disability etiquette, but keeping the following points in mind should help you when working with students with disabilities.

Eye Contact

  • If the student is using a wheelchair, look downward. It is even better to move to a level spot by squatting or sitting and looking directly at them.
  • If a student uses an interpreter, talk and look at the student.
  • Interpreter gives voice to the student's words.
  • Address questions to the student, not the interpreter.
  • If the student is using lip-reading to understand what you are saying, face them when speaking.

How to Assist

  • Ask how you can help first.
  • Ask first if the student wants or needs assistance - for example, don't take a person's hand as a guide if the person is blind or visually impaired or if a student is struggling to put on a coat or buckle a boot.
  • All students have the right to choose who may touch them and when.
  • What may look clumsy to you may be the way the student has adapted to complete tasks.


  • Allow students to complete thoughts or sentences.
  • If a student is using an assistive communication device, or stuttering, or just having difficulty speaking, let the student complete their communication.
  • Avoid interrupting the student's thought process.
  • Provide clear feedback if you are unable to hear or understand what the student is saying.
  • Ask if there is another means to communicate. The student may be able to write it down or type it into a keyboard. In either case,avoid pretending to understand and always ask for clarification.

Service Animals

  • Don't pet and play with the animal.
  • Before touching the animal, ask permission.
  • Typically, service animals in harnesses are working and should not be playing or socializing at the same time.
  • Distracting the animal's attention may put the student in danger, as the animals are not attending to their work responsibilities.
  • Service animals perform a host of tasks for people with disabilities.


  • Help students understand you better; be clear.
  • Increasing volume or slowing speech does not assist students.

Non-Verbal Communication

  • Recognize that some students with disabilities have a difficult time interpreting and even recognizing the use of non-verbal communication.
  • If someone is not responding to your non-verbal cues, then verbalize what you're trying to express.
  • Be clear and unambiguous; When someone understands what you are trying to communicate, they can comply or respond.

For the most part, using common sense is the best approach to etiquette for students with and without disabilities. Always remember to respect the individual. Often having a sense of humor and a willingness to learn will go a long way in working with a student with a disability.

Person First Language

When referring to people with disabilities, it's most appropriate to put the person first. Rather than saying, "the deaf girl," one should say, "the girl who is hard of hearing."

Language is powerful and though often unnoticed, repetitive references to a person as a disability and not a person first are limiting and tend to stress a single characteristic of a person and not the whole person. The link below is a good reference for person-first language and appropriate terms for people with disabilities.