Treat students with disabilities with the same respect you give everyone else. Focus not on the disability but on determining what the student needs in order to develop knowledge and skills on the same playing field as other students. Remember that students are individuals; people with similar impairments do not necessarily have similar needs.

  • At the beginning of the semester, make a statement that invites all students to discuss their needs with you individually and privately.
  • Avoid actions that call attention to disabilities, such as seating students apart from the rest of the class or discussing the disability in front of the class.
  • Treat students like adults.
  • Avoid attaching labels to people or reinforcing stereotypes.
  • Offer assistance, but ask a student with a disability whether he or she needs help before providing it. Listen to instructions.
  • Make appropriate physical contact with disabled people according to the situation in the same way you would with anyone else.
  • Talk directly to the person, not through a companion or interpreter.
  • Refer to a person’s disability only if it is relevant to the conversation.
  • Do not interact with a person’s service animal unless you have permission.
  • If you have questions about accommodations, ask the student.

Language and terminology

Think carefully about your word choices, and encourage your students to think about theirs. Use language that emphasizes the person, not the disability. For example, say “a student with a disability” instead of “a disabled student” or “a person with epilepsy” instead of “an epileptic.”

Terms to avoid

  • “confined to a wheelchair”
  • “suffers from”
  • “afflicted with”
  • “deformed”
  • “retarded”
  • “invalid”
  • “dumb”
  • “crippled”
  • “handicapped”

Some people find themselves feeling awkward or self-conscious when interacting with students who have disabilities. Simple common sense and courtesy will reduce these initial reactions.