The Value of Respect

The term “respect” has many types of meanings. It includes a positive feeling towards another person or the person’s skills, opinions or other characteristics and the honoring of a person’s beliefs, ideas or culture. Respect requires seeing the individual as a person first. Lack of exposure to people who are different from our custom or standards may contribute to a lack of respect.

All people, including those with disabilities, are thought of more positively when in a position to contribute to the community. People with disabilities can get the respect of others by being supported to perform useful and meaningful activities. As a DSP, respect for individuals you
support can be achieved by first listening and developing an understanding of their culture, background, hopes and dreams, and then supporting each person to follow through on things that are important to him/her.

There is a tendency to have lowered expectations of persons with disabilities. Low expectations limit opportunities to try new things and interfere with achievements. It is your responsibility to move away from a focus on the limitations and turn towards a focus on talents and abilities. This enables the focus to shift to respect and empowerment.

It is important to remember that people with disabilities want and need the same things others do – love, security, the satisfaction of personal accomplishment, the opportunity to exercise control over their days, environment, and experiences, and to laugh and communicate with others. The way a person experiences these things is different for each, but the desire to have them is the same for everyone. Have high expectations for people with disabilities.


A therapist worked with a man for many years before he finally got a new wheelchair. When demonstrating all the features of this chair to providers who support him, the therapist heard the staff members gasp. The staff told the therapist, “We didn’t know Sam could get out of his chair by himself or stand up just by holding onto the grab bar. We’ve been lifting him in and out of his chair for years. What’s your secret?” 

The therapist looked at them and said, “I didn’t know any better, and I just asked Sam to get out of his chair by himself and stand by holding the bar. I expected him to do these things. I was there to protect him should he lose his balance, but I knew he could do this for himself.”


The Role of Language

Your choice of words in speaking and your attitude (conveyed through the tone of your voice) are very important. Language can act as a separator when you use “special” language or professional jargon when talking about people with disabilities such as “client,” or “consumer.” Special language says people with disabilities are different. Instead, use everyday language, words, and phrases you would use when talking about co-workers, friends, and family members. For example, instead of saying John was placed in a job, say, he found a job or instead of saying Jane transitioned from high school, say, she graduated. As a DSP, how you talk will influence the attitudes and interactions of others.

Read: Person First Language by Kathie Snow

 “Person First” language emphasizes the person and not the disability. The first choice is always to call someone by their name. If you have to refer to someone and mention disability, always put the person first. The phrase, “a disabled person,” can be disrespectful and emphasizes the disability rather than the person. You should say, “a person with a disability.” Instead of saying “someone with Down’s,” say, “a person has Down syndrome.” Referring to the person first lets others know he or she is, first and foremost, a person who deserves respect.

Read: Language to Avoid