Laura Dajao dancing in a spotlight in a wheelchair
Laura Dajao. Photo by CLO Photography

Access: Disability Confident etiquette

Language and behaviour matters. Inappropriate etiquette can cause offence and portray an individual or organisation as being un-inclusive and lacking in access knowledge.

Disability confident language – the basics
The following terms provide an example of appropriate and inappropriate disability-related terminology.

Appropriate Inappropriate
Disabled Person Person with a Disability
Wheelchair user Wheelchair bound
Learning disability Mental handicap
Visually impaired people The Blind
Mental health service user or survivor Mentally ill


Deaf, deaf and disabled
‘Deaf’, ‘deaf’ and ‘disabled’ mean very different things.

British Sign Language (BSL) is an official language in the UK. Deaf culture is very strong for people whose first language is BSL, who see themselves as a linguistic minority rather than disabled people. People who have become deafened and non-BSL users are more likely to think of themselves as disabled. The term ‘disabled’ can include ‘deaf’, but not ’Deaf’ people.

Disability confident behaviour
The following list provides some key guidelines to disability confident behaviour:

  • Be receptive. Remember that the disabled person will know how to manage their own adjustment needs but be prepared to offer assistance if requested
  • Do not make assumptions. Everyone’s experience is unique
  • Do not move wheelchair users without their permission. Grabbing or resting on someone’s wheelchair is not appropriate
  • When communicating with a wheelchair user, try to seat yourself at a level that allows you both to communicate at eye level where possible
  • Do not distract working assistance animals when they are on duty
  • When communicating with someone with a visual impairment introduce yourself and ensure that you inform them when you are leaving a discussion so that they are aware you are departing
  • When guiding someone with a visual impairment ask them how they would like to be assisted and inform them when they are approaching to steps, ramps, railings or doorways
  • If you are using a sign language interpreter, remember to look and speak directly to the person you are communicating with, not the interpreter
  • If you are unsure what someone has said ask them to repeat themselves. This reduces the risk of misunderstandings. Never guess. If you are still unsure what is being said explore other ways of communicating.

Please contact Shape for more information on our training and access services.