Disability Discrimination Etiquette 6 Rules: How To Avoid Ableism

The disability discrimination etiquette rules. The appropriate behaviors to avoid the most common forms of disability discrimination or ableism. Follow these rules to be inclusive and avoid offending others.

What disability discrimination etiquette is

Disability discrimination etiquette is the set of rules to be inclusive and avoid discrimination based on someone’s disability. Such rules include:

  • How to train yourself to avoid disability discrimination.
  • The inappropriate behaviors to avoid.
  • How to deal with ableism.

Everyone should respect disability discrimination etiquette to avoid discriminatory behaviors, respect others, and be inclusive.

If you experience or witness disability discrimination, follow the etiquette rules to appropriately deal with the offending party.

General disability discrimination etiquette principles

People tend to feel more comfortable with someone who is similar to them. Such as someone with the same gender, ethnicity, appearance, religion, and so on. Thus, when people perceive diversity, they may get uncomfortable or defensive.

Disability discrimination etiquette is based on three main principles:

  • Help people positively perceive disability and avoid prejudice.
  • Ensure equal treatment.
  • Avoid any behavior that can offend others based on their disability.
how to avoid discrimination based on disability

Disability discrimination etiquette rules

1) Train yourself to get comfortable with disability

Ableism is discrimination based on the belief that disabled individuals are defined by their disabilities. Thus, such individuals would need “fixing”. While there are obvious differences across disability groups, such differences do not affect our basic rights and values as individuals.

Instead of focusing on the perceived diversity, it is best to train ourselves to focus on the similarities. The things that we have in common with other people are disproportionally more than the differences. We all eat, drink, breathe, spend time with someone we love, have fun, work, expect fair compensation for our work, and so on. Our body appearance and abilities are factors that do not affect such similarities. Thus, they are mostly irrelevant.

2) Avoid generalization based on disability

Never generalize. Personal traits and behaviors are almost always disconnected. People are not defined by their personal traits, such as the color of their hair or body weight. Similarly, people are not defined by their disabilities.

3) Adopt an inclusive language 

Never refer to someone by their physical traits, physical appearance, body parts, or disabilities. Similarly, avoid any term that can be perceived as derogatory based on someone’s disability.

Avoid words, thoughts, or sentences that imply segregation. Such as “we” as opposed to “you” (your group) or “they”.

4) Challenge your own prejudice toward disability

Prejudice leads to racism and discrimination. Thus, to avoid disability discrimination, we need to fight our own prejudices.

Train yourself to challenge your own prejudice. Ask yourself whether your opinion about someone is based on your experience or on what other people say. It is best to base our opinions on our own first-hand experience. We cannot rely solely on what others may say or may have experienced, as they might be biased.

Similarly, ask yourself whether your opinion about someone would change if the person’s physical traits or disability status were different. Are there objective facts that informed your opinion? Or is your opinion based mostly on perceived factors?

5) Avoid sensitive topics

Avoid conversation topics that can be controversial, too personal, or at risk of misinterpretation. Some groups that have experienced significant discrimination based on their disabilities may be particularly sensitive to some topics.

It is most appropriate to make small talk to get to know other people. Small talk help build rapport, understand boundaries, and avoid venturing into conversation topics that may be sensitive.

6) Be tolerant of disability discrimination mistakes

Disability discrimination is wrong and it should be prevented. However, it is the best etiquette to avoid confrontation. Instead, when possible, choose tolerance and dialogue.

People are generally good and want to be good. Disability discrimination often comes from a lack of education about equality or exposure to diversity. Thus, the best cure against disability discrimination is to patiently educate people and expose them to diversity in a non-threatening way.

When someone makes an offensive remark, do not confront them. Instead, patiently make them aware that their remark or behavior can be offensive to you. Briefly explain your reasons.

Try your best to not sound judgemental or self-righteous. Instead, consider yourself privileged because you received education about equality or exposure to diversity, while the other person clearly did not.

Do not expect immediate results. People need time to learn, absorb experiences, understand their mistakes, and learn from them. Be tolerant and have faith in others and their goodwill.

How to deal with disability discrimination

Disability discrimination etiquette in your social circle

Help friends, relatives, and people you care about to correct their mistakes. Make them aware of what disability discrimination is and why it should be avoided. Be tolerant and non-confrontational. Try to start a dialogue and help them understand what behaviors to avoid and why. If the other person does not show any sign of improvement over time, it may be best to reconsider your relationship with them.

Disability discrimination etiquette at work or in the office

Every employer has the duty to create a work environment that is welcoming and inclusive. While a tolerant attitude is most appropriate in informal and social circles, disability discrimination should not be tolerated in any professional or institutional setting.

If you experience or witness disability discrimination at work, you can politely correct the offending party. If the issue persists, avoid confrontation. Instead, involve your human resources function.

When you find yourself in a work environment where discrimination based on disability is endemic, if you have the chance do not start a crusade and leave. However, most countries have laws to protect the rights of people with disabilities. Thus, it may be appropriate to consider legal action.

Disability discrimination etiquette at schools and universities

Educational institutions have the duty to educate people about equality. Thus, any discriminatory behavior in such venues cannot be tolerated and must be corrected.

If you experience or witness disability discrimination in an educational institution, you should report it immediately to the institution’s governing bodies. If the issue persists, it is perfectly appropriate to escalate it to any supervisory institution.

disability discrimination worst mistakes

Disability discrimination etiquette: the worst mistakes

The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors. 

A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. More about the Rude Index and its methodology here.  

Avoid the worst disability discrimination etiquette mistakes. 

  • 10/10. Discriminating based on someone’s disability.
  • 10/10. Tolerating persistent disability discrimination.
  • 9/10. Making generalizations based on disabilities.
  • 8/10. Speaking in a non-inclusive language.


  • Exploring experiences of ableism in academia: a constructivist inquiry: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov