Twelve Tips for Speaking about Disability

From The Abilities Fund website

(I learned something from this and I consider myself pretty well informed.)


1. Do not refer to a person's disability unless it is relevant.

2. Disability and disabled are the terms of choice. Describe a person as "disabled" rather than "handicapped." While handicapped was the descriptor of choice in the 1960's and early 1970's, it is no longer appropriate to use when describing a person.

3. What is good for the goose is not always good for the gander. Although you may hear people with disabilities refer to themselves as "handicapped," "crippled" or "gimp," if you are not disabled you should never use these slang terms.

4. Avoid euphemisms. The struggle to agree upon a "neutral" term has generated new flavor-of-the-day terms such as "physically (or mentally) challenged," "differently-abled" and "handicapable." These terms, while well intending, are offensive to some people with disabilities. Such terminology has not been widely embraced by the disability community and should be avoided.

5. Avoid medical language. Do not refer to people with disabilities as "patients" unless you are specifically discussing their treatment in a medical facility. Never say "invalid."

6. When referring to a person's disability, make an effort to use Person First Language. In other words, when necessary, it is better to say "Jake is a person with a disability" than "Jake is a disabled person". The phrase "disabled person" is a generally accepted (although not preferred) variation to avoid over-use of the phrase "people with disabilities". For variation, it is appropriate to refer to "entrepreneurs with disabilities" when writing or talking about business owners who happen to be disabled.

7. Call a spade a spade. Do not use the term "special" when you mean separate or segregated. And do not use the word "special" when you mean disabled. "Special" has negative connotations within the disability community.

8. Avoid inappropriate adjectives and ridiculous constructions such as "disabled seating" or "blind organization." Think through the concept to find a cleaner, more accurate way to express it, such as "accessible seating" or "reserved seating" and "organization of people who are blind."

9. Avoid negative or sensational descriptions of a person's disability. Do not use emotionally charged language such as "suffers from," "victim of" or "afflicted with." These portrayals elicit unwanted sympathy, or worse, pity toward individuals with disabilities.

10. Do not portray people with disabilities as overly courageous, heroic, brave, special, inspiring or superhuman. This implies that it is unusual for people with disabilities to have talents or skills. Never say an individual "overcame" her disability or accomplished something "in spite of" her disability. These concepts are flawed and are based on misconceptions about what it means to have a disability.

11. Do not use "normal" to describe people who do not have disabilities. It is better to say "people without disabilities," if necessary to make comparisons. Also avoid euphemisms like "temporarily able-bodied."

12. Never say "wheelchair-bound" or "confined to a wheelchair." Instead, refer to the individual as "a wheelchair user" or "a person who uses a wheelchair." People who use mobility equipment, if anything, are liberated by the freedom and access these devices afford.

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