Disability Etiquette

Words are powerful. When used effectively, they can provide information, comfort, excitement, and encouragement. When used ineffectively, they can be hurtful, flustering, disturbing, and discouraging. They can destroy one’s self-confidence. People react physically and emotionally to what is said “to” and “about” them.65,66 Disability etiquette is a critical element of building rapport and trust with patients and caregivers. Knowing proper disability etiquette is not easy. It is constantly evolving as we learn more about delivering care to, and interacting with, individuals diagnosed with a disability. Dental providers can be assured they are practicing proper disability etiquette if they remember one thing…the “person” always comes before the “disability.” This is commonly referred to as “Person Centered Language.” For example, a dental provider is delivering care to an “individual diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.” The provider is not delivering care to their “Parkinson’s patient.” The message is very clear; people do not want to be defined by their disability. Providers should focus on using language that is respectful and courteous. It is important to avoid prejudices, assumptions, and stereotypes. Table 4 provides phrases oral health professionals should avoid when delivering care to individuals diagnosed with PD and suggestions for making the statement in a non-discriminatory, respectful manner.65,66

Table 4. Suggestions for Practicing Person Centered Language.65,66
Phrases to Avoid… Use Instead…
Parkinson’s person/patient/client Person diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease/who has Parkinson’s disease
When he/she was stricken with PD When he/she was diagnosed with PD
Wheelchair bound, confined to a wheelchair Uses a wheelchair
Burden of caregiving/Caregiver burden In the context of caregiving, there may be difficulty issues. It is important to be specific and name the issue. For example, caregiver states she is exhausted and has not slept for two nights
Informal caregiver/Professional caregiver Ask caregiver what name he/she prefers on a regular basis; when the caregiver is a healthcare professional, cite the title or name of the profession
Demented/Demented person Person with dementia
Non-compliant Describe the response and potential reasons. For example, Mr. Smith pushes away the toothbrush when offered. He may not understand
Nursing home Long-term care
Handicapped/disabled parking Accessible parking