Inclusive Actions

Be aware of disability etiquette and practice inclusive actions when it comes to interacting with people with disabilities. This image is taken from the Accept Difference television commercial and depicts a male passing a female her handbag. The female is seated on the floor attending to and embracing a child. In the TVC the female is shopping with a child who runs off and the female runs after him and drops her handbag in the process. The female received a judgemental expression from one shopper but another shopper steps forward and displays an inclusive action and helps the female by placing her handbag beside her.

Many people wonder how they can interact respectfully with people with disabilities. So here are some disability etiquette tips.

When you are next out and about, practice some of the following suggestions when interacting with people with different abilities.

Focus on the person’s NEEDS

  • INTERACT as you USUALLY would with people.
  • TAKE A MOMENT, and try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Life is full of pressures, for everyone. Slow down to accommodate for someone else’s needs.
  • OFFER HELP if it is needed and UNDERSTAND if your help is not required. A supportive offer is a positive gesture, even if declined. SUPPORT the independence and expertise of people with disability and their families.
  • STOP JUDGEMENT, negative responses, condescending language and praising people with disability for simply existing.
  • BE AWARE that facilities for people with disability need to be available for those with additional needs. Don’t block ramps. Avoid using toilets and car parks that are designated for people with disability.
  • REMEMBER every person needs an individual approach. Inclusion looks different for everyone. All relationships might feel a little awkward at the start but as you get to know someone, with understanding comes ease.
  • ADVOCATE for human rights. Here is further information on the Disability Discrimination Act 

Communication tips

  • REFER to people by their NAME, not their disability.
  • The general rule in Australia is to USE PEOPLE FIRST language (see guideline table below), but not all people with disability agree with this. So when in doubt, ask the person you are engaging with how they would like to be referred to.
  • Do your research, then BE BOLD. People often avoid talking at all about these issues if they feel they do not know the right terms. Be prepared to get things wrong at times. The most important thing is that you are respectful and talking about barriers and how to remove them.
  • RESPECT a person’s right to privacy. A person with disability does not have to share the details of their condition with you.

Note: This table outlines disability language guidelines. However, all people differ in their views and how they like to be spoken to. When in doubt, ask the person what they prefer.

USE: People who are deaf or hard of hearing AVOID: The hearing impaired / deaf-mute
USE: People who are blind, people who have low vision AVOID: The blind, the sightless
USE: People who use a wheelchair, wheelchair user AVOID: Wheelchair bound, confined to a wheelchair
USE: People with a mobility impairment, people with limited mobility AVOID: The crippled, the lame
USE: People with an intellectual disability AVOID: The retarded, mentally retarded, defective etc.
USE: People with mental health issues, person with a psychiatric disability AVOID: Insane, mental patient, neurotic, psycho, schizo etc.
USE: People with a learning disability AVOID: Retarded, dyslexic (as a generic)
USE: People living with cancer, living with HIV and AIDS AVOID: Cancer/AIDS/HIV sufferers, battling with cancer etc.
USE: People with Down syndrome AVOID: Downs

Download PDF – Disability and Appropriate Language Flyer, for home or the workplace.

Make a suggestion

If you have a suggestion of practical tips to foster better interaction with people living with disability, please let us know by emailing

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