Disability Etiquette

When addressing individuals with disabilities speak to the person directly and not to their companions or assistants. Before helping an individual with a disability, ask them if they need assistance and, if so, what type.

What not to do:

  • Do not assume a person needs assistance.
  • Do not assume that a person having one disability might have others.
  • Do not assume that a person who does not appear to be disabled is not.
  • Do not assume that companions/assistants are accompanying the individual strictly to render service.
  • When approaching an individual who is visually impaired, identify yourself.
  • Do not grab a person and force them to walk with you.
  • Do not pet service animals unless you request permission first.
  • Do not hand receipts to an assistant/companion but rather to the individual who is purchasing the item.
  • Do not remove an individual's mobility device from them without explaining why and letting them know where it will be placed and how they can retrieve it.

People often tend to avoid addressing individuals with disabilities because they panic about being "politically correct". Most people with disabilities acknowledge and are comfortable with their circumstances, limitations and abilities. The best way to approach a person with a disability is to be yourself and not be afraid. If you wonder whether you should or should not offer assistance, ask the person directly. Here are some terms to shy away from and possible substitutions (in alphabetical order):

Patronizing and Demeaning Terms Respectful Terms
Afflicted By or Stricken With Person with a disability whose limitations are...
Aged or Elderly Senior Citizen
Birth Defect Congenital Disorder
Cripple Person with a disability
Deaf Hearing Impaired
Differently-abled Person whose abilities are limited by...
Electric Wheelchair Power Wheelchair
Epileptic Person who has epilepsy
Epileptic Fit Seizure
Handicap Bathroom Accessible Bathroom
Handicap Parking Space Parking for Visitors With Disabilities
Handicapped Person with a disability
Hard of Hearing Hearing Loss
Joey Person with Cerebral Palsy
Marginated Community Integration
Mentally Challenged Intellectually Disabled
Mentally Retarded Developmentally Disabled
Midget or Dwarf Little Person or Small Stature
Mongol or Mongoloid Person with Down Syndrome
Normal Person Person who is not disabled
Patient (if out of a hospital) Client
Physically Challenged Person with a disability
Restrained Facing a barrier
Schizo or Schizophrenia Person with Psychosis
Slow Intellectually Disabled
Special Needs Circumstances or Disabling Condition
Victim Person with a ...
Visually Handicapped Visually Impaired
Wheelchair Bound or Confined Wheelchair User

When speaking about individuals with disabilities, avoid talking about "them", "fixing problems", and referring to "them" as heroes or victims. It is more polite and more productive to refer to an individual's abilities as opposed to disabilities. Although accessibility issues are commonly perceived by society as a burdensome task, establishing your museum as a model accessible organization can be easy and rewarding.

Click here for a list of Disability Access Symbols. For more resources on current etiquette, see our Resources web page.