Disability Etiquette


Recently, I attended a Unit Head meeting and we reviewed the policies and procedures associated with working with diverse audiences.  Making reasonable efforts to include all people from all walks of life.

The presentation on supporting participation within the arena of physical disabilities was interesting to me because making accommodations can be a puzzle for agents.  Many of the facilities that we use in our parishes are not ADA compliant and do not allow for access by everyone.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is the nation’s first comprehensive civil rights law addressing the needs of people with disabilities, prohibiting discrimination in employment, public services, public accommodations, and telecommunications.  (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).

Adequate venues suited to accommodate individuals is important, but probably more important is being sensitive with our language.  Below you will find a list of derogatory sentences with an explanation. There are so many slang terms that fly around and we need to consider that we are offending youth and families in our 4-H programs.

Handicap is from the phrase “cap-in-hand” which highlights images of individuals begging in the street for money to support themselves.  The phrase is no longer used in reference to disabilities.  Use the term “person with a disability.”

Abnormality is a term that is acceptable to use when referring to scientific phenomena, however, it should be avoided when describing a person.  In other words, referring to a person as “normal” or “abnormal” isn’t sensitive language.

Spastic or Spaz are terms that have been used in the past to refer to someone with cerebral palsy.  There are different movements of people with the disorder that appear stiff and jerky.  Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder which controls muscle movement.

Dwarf or midget are terms that were used in the past to refer to a person who was extremely short but are now considered derogatory.  Little Person is the preferred common terminology.

Lame and Invalid are two terms that aren’t considered acceptable to describe someone with a disability.  Both terms are used as social slang and have fallen out of use.  Comments such as “That is so lame!” or “You are acting like an invalid” are not socially correct and might cause offense.

Retard is considered outdated and offensive.  In everyday language the term pops up when people describe each other or through name calling.  The phrase “intellectually disabled” is the proper term brought about in the US in 2010.  Interestingly, the term “retard” is from the Italian word ritardato, which means held back, impeded, delayed, or deferred.

As 4-H agents we want to guard our words and make every effort to be careful to not offend the families that we serve.  Having conversations with our diverse audiences can teach us a great deal about our language patterns and habits.  There is a wealth of information available to learn more about working with diverse audiences.

It’s important for agents to be model appropriate language and avoid perpetuating old stereotypes.  Please visit the links below to learn more about disability etiquette.






One thought on “Disability Etiquette

  1. Was this information you got from disability awareness merit badge at the 2010 BSA National Jamboree?

    Good article!!


    David Boe Avoyelles Public Charter School 201 Longfellow Rd Mansura, LA 71350

    School 318-240-9991



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