Working with a student with a disability
26 April, 2017

Working with a student with a disability

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the term "disability" is defined as “a mental or physical impairment that does limit one or several life activities.” It is noted that the following term can be used to refer not only to a person who currently has a problem, but also to an individual who has a history of impairment or who is treated as disabled by mistake. Typical disability categories are as following: wheelchair use, hearing loss or deafness, vision impairment or blindness, cognitive  / intellectual limitations, hidden disabilities, or speech disabilities.

The National Center of Education Statistics (NCES) identifies11 % of college/university students as disabled.

Not taking into consideration their specific outward status, every disabled student has the right to the same level of inclusion, participation, and respect as their non-disabled peers.

Here are basic guidelines for interacting with the people with disabilities in a polite, thoughtful manner.


In the majority of cases, an individual without any disabilities can incorrectly react to a person who has an impairment. For the sake of normal interaction, it is vital to abstain from looks, statements or gestures that could make a person feel uncomfortable or embarrassed.

  • Always try to be patient and tolerant of an individual who speaks or moves at a slow pace.
  • Maintain constant eye-contact when you talk to the disabled and try avoiding long staring at them.
  • When meeting a deaf person or someone who has a speech or cognitive disability, address this individual directly and maintain an ordinary voice tone.
  • Be aware of doorsteps, doors, stairs, and other obstacles that can create difficulties for an individual who uses a mobility device. Offer help if the disabled is struggling, but be courteous if he/she rejects your offer.

Person First Language

Advocates of disability put emphasis on the significance of respectful terminology. According to etiquette rules,calling someone as a “person with a disability” is more suitable than referring him/her as “a disabled person.” This can be practically applied to a particular disability, for example: “person, who is deaf” is more polite than “a deaf person” because by saying the “person” first, you emphasize that you treat this person as a fellow and equal human, rather than an individual with a disability. Besides, be aware of referring to someone as “person who is suffering from hearing loss”, “victim”, “individual who struggles with a cognitive impairment” and other descriptions that present them as infirm, weak or unable to do anything on their own.

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