What is disability?

Disability can be defined in a number of ways, but it is often defined as any visible, invisible, emotional, social and educational differences that are a part of everyday life. Disability can refer to a medical diagnosis, a barrier and/or a person’s identity.

About 1 in 4 Americans are living with a disability today (according to the CDC). It’s likely that all of us know someone who has a disability – or will develop a disability – at some point in life, including ourselves.

As the meaning of disability evolves as society changes, we remain committed to the advancement of full equity, inclusion and access for people with disabilities, families and communities.

How should I refer to someone who has a disability?

Simply put, it’s up to the individual. Some people prefer person-first language, which puts the person before the disability (e.g., a person who is blind), while others prefer identity-first language (e.g., a disabled person), as they feel their disability is an integral part of who they are. Bottom line: Always be respectful and never use words that are hurtful, offensive, or derogatory.

How Does Easterseals Support Individuals With Disabilities?

Easterseals is leading the way to full equity, inclusion and access through life-changing disability and community services--from early childhood programs for the critical first five years, to autism services, daily and independent living services for adults, employment programs and more. Our public education, policy and advocacy initiatives positively shape perceptions and address the urgent and evolving needs of the one in four Americans with disabilities today. Together, we’re empowering people with disabilities, families and communities to be full and equal participants in society.

What is ableism?

Ableism is prejudice, bias, and discrimination directed toward people with disabilities.

Keep these basic principles of disability etiquette in mind:

  • If you would like to help someone with a disability, ask if he or she needs it, and listen to any instructions the person may want to give.
  • Be considerate of the extra time it might take a person with a disability to get things done or said. Let the person set the pace in walking and talking.
  • Treat adults accordingly.
  • Call a person by his or her first name only when you extend this familiarity to everyone present.
  • Don’t be embarrassed if you happen to use common expressions that seem to relate to the person’s disability such as “See you later” or “I’ve got to run.”
  • It's okay to ask people about their disabilities after you’ve gotten to know someone, and it's also okay for them not to talk about it.
  • Don't assume someone doesn't have a disability just because they aren't using mobility aids. Not all disabilities are visible.
  • When you're talking with wheelchair users for more than a few minutes, sit down so you are eye level with that person.
  • It's okay to ask people who have speech-related disabilities to repeat what they said if you didn't understand the first time.
  • If an interpreter is helping you speak with a deaf person, make sure you talk to the deaf person and not the interpreter.
  • Never pet or play with service dogs. They can't be distracted from the job they are doing.