home research news speak out calendar ideas guest book search
Go to UCP Homepage
Home News Research Congress Speak Out Calendar Feedback Search
Education Employment Health & Wellness
Housing Parenting & Families Products & Services
Sports & Leisure Transportation Travel
Your UCP: National September 11, 2003
Media & Public Awareness

Etiquette Tips

People with Developmental and Cognitive Disabilities


There can be an overlap in defining developmental and cognitive disabilities. "Developmental" and "cognitive" are very broad labels, and do not particularly indicate the level of skill or ability that an individual may have.

Developmental disability is an umbrella term referring to disabilities present before an individual reaches 22 years of age. Congenital developmental disabilities exist at birth, but developmental disabilities can also be acquired post birth. Examples of developmental disabilities are cerebral palsy, epilepsy, autism, hearing loss, Down syndrome, mental retardation, spinal injury or brain injury. Though not all of these disabilities necessarily result in impaired intellectual functioning, often people use the term to refer to disabilities that have a component affecting cognitive function.

Cognitive disabilities refer to any disability affecting mental processes. Examples include mental retardation, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, aphasia, brain injury, language delay, and learning disabilities.


  • Adults who have developmental disabilities are adults. Assume their life experiences are similar to other adults and speak with them from that perspective.
  • Bring up topics that would be approached in general conversations such as weekend activities, vacation plans, the weather, or recent events.
  • Address questions, comments, or concerns directly to the individual, not to a companion.
  • If someone needs you to speak in a louder voice, they will ask.
  • Assume people with cognitive disabilities are legally competent. They can often sign documents, vote, consent to medical care and sign contracts.


Remember that many individuals with developmental and cognitive disabilities do not have limited intellectual functioning. Those that do may require accommodations. When accommodations are necessary, implement respectfully, recognizing the individual as an adult. Programmatic and/or physical accommodations will be determined by the needs of each individual.

  • Some people may benefit from information presented in a clear, concise, concrete, and simple manner.
  • When necessary, repeat information using different wording or a different communication approach. Allow time for the information to be fully understood.
  • If appropriate, avoid cliches and idiomatic language.

  • If needed, present tasks in a step by step manner. Let the individual perform each step after the explanation.
  • When appropriate, use pictures or simple photographs to identify rooms, tasks, or directions.

Previous Section
About UCP
Research Foundation & Fact Sheets
Corporate Sponsors
Public Policy
Media & Public Awareness
Press Releases
Glossary & Definitions
Etiquette Tips
Vocabulary Tips
Disability Links
News Archives
Press Room
Grants & Contracts
Bellows Fund
Web Site Accessibility
En espaņol
© 2003, UCP National (aka United Cerebral Palsy)
1660 L Street, NW, Suite 700, Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 800-872-5827/202-776-0406 TTY: 202-973-7197 Fax: 202-776-0414
E-Mail: webmaster@ucp.org
Affiliate Center Entrance
[password required]
Privacy Policy & Terms of Usage