Helpful Attitudes and Etiquette

Students with disabilities are much more like the community at large than not, but they differ in one major aspect. They have suffered the psychological impact of having a disability and have adjusted (or are in the process of adjusting) to this impact, which has interfered with their ability to participate in the basic life functions of education and work.  

For a person who is not disabled, it can be difficult to appreciate the complexity of the student's situation. Attitudinal barriers, as well as academic and architectural barriers, interfere with a student's access to education. The following suggestions will help raise your awareness and facilitate the academic participation of students with disabilities.

Ask the Student

While we encourage students to discuss their needs with their instructors, this conversation does not always take place. If you have questions about whether or not a student needs an accommodation, the first person to ask is the student.

Be aware of your language

Using terms such as "student with a disability" rather than "disabled student" puts the emphasis on the person rather than the disability.


Don't be afraid to approach a person with a disability, or use words such as "walk" when talking with a person using a wheelchair. As with anyone else, just treat these students with respect.

Speak directly to the student

Don't consider a companion to be a conversation go-between. Even if the student has an interpreter present, speak directly to the student.

Give your full attention

Be considerate of the extra time it might take for a person with a disability to get things said or done. Don't talk for the person who has difficulty speaking, but give help when needed. Keep your manner encouraging rather than correcting.

Speak slowly and distinctly

When talking to a person who is hard of hearing or has difficulty understanding, speak slowly without exaggerating your lip movement. Stand in front of the person and use gestures to aid communication. Many students who are deaf or hard of hearing rely on being able to read your lips. When full understanding is doubtful, write notes.

Appreciate abilities

Students with disabilities, like those without disabilities, do some things well and others not as well. By focusing on what they can do, instead of what they can't, you will help build their confidence.

Use common sense

Although some students with disabilities may require significant adaptation and modification in the classroom, more often common sense approaches can ensure that students have access to course content.

Wheelchair etiquette

A wheelchair is part of a person's "personal space." No one should lean on, touch, or push a chair unless asked. When pushing a wheelchair, ask the person how to proceed. Whenever you are talking with a student in a wheelchair, try to be seated so the student does not have to peer upward at you.

Architectural barriers

Be alert to possible architectural barriers in places you want to enter with a person who has a disability. If the person is using crutches or sitting in a wheelchair, opening a door is appreciated. Also, watch for poor lighting, which impairs communication for people with hearing and visual impairments.

Service dog etiquette

Companion and guide dogs work for their owners and should not be played with or petted.

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