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Disability Etiquette Part II: Be Aware of Exceptions

In Disability Etiquette Part I, we identified person-first language as a basic principle in disability etiquette. Continuing, we identify exceptions.

Not everyone is in favor of person-first language, and criticisms of its use bring attention to something very important to remember: there are few hard-and-fast rules about what constitutes best-etiquette. In this instance, we need to be informed about the preferences and mores of cultures within the disability community.

For example, as articulated in a 1993 resolution, the National Foundation of the Blind disagreed with the notion that the word “person” must always precede the word “blind,” and posited that to follow that rule inflexibly “portrays the blind as touchy and belligerent.”(1)

Deaf culture refers to “Deaf-first language,” in part because being deaf is a source of pride and positive self-identity. This culture would refer to the “deaf person,” or the “hard-of hearing person.” (2) The Deaf person would refer to him or herself as “being deaf” and not to being a person who “has deafness” or who “has a hearing impairment. “

Similarly, many advocates in the autism-rights community have preferred to self-identify as being autistic (“I am autistic,” or “we are autistic”) rather than having autism.

As previously stated, like all etiquette, disability etiquette is guided by two fundamental principles: 

  • treat the person with respect and kindness, and
  • strive to make him or her feel comfortable.

That will often mean that we need to educate ourselves about persons whose life experiences are different than our own.

  1. Jernigan, K.  (2009). The pitfalls of political correctness:  Euphemisms excoriated.  Braille Monitor, 52(3).
  2. Lum, D.  (2010). Culturally competent practice: A framework for understanding. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Barbara Borg, Customer & Community Services Coordinator


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