Create a positive, welcoming environment and raise everyone’s comfort levels when interacting with people who have disabilities. Use these disability terminology tips to raise awareness and champion inclusive programs and spaces in your community!
DISABILITY LANGUAGE TIPS:
- A simple approach is to use person-first language. This puts the person before their disability to recognize that the person is not defined by their disability or condition, for example ‘a person with a disability’.
- An important exception to the rule of person-first language is Identity-first language. This is a way some individuals with disabilities prefer to emphasize what they consider to be an inherent part of their identity. In this case, a person may choose to put their condition or disability first as a positive label, for example, ‘autistic person’.
- Language should focus on the abilities of the individual and the accommodations that support them.
- Avoid making statements that reinforce negative stereotypes or that generalize characteristics of individuals with specific disabilities. No two individuals are alike.
- Only refer to the person’s disability if it is relevant.
- Language is complicated and always evolving. The language you choose to use may depend on your audience, whose experience you are trying to capture, and to honor the individual’s unique language preferences and rights to decide how they wish to be described.
When in doubt, just ask!
DISABILITY LANGUAGE EXAMPLES
Preferred | Outdated/Avoid
A person with a disability, special needs
handicapped person, disabled individual, special needs child
An individual with Down syndrome
a Down’s child, Down’s syndrome
People who are neurodivergent
a neurodiverse person
a person with autism or autism spectrum disorder is a safe bet, however many in the autistic community strongly prefer identity-first language, such as autistic people
people who use wheelchairs, other mobility devices, adaptive equipment
a person confined/bound to a wheelchair, wheelchair-bound
people with a communication, language, or speech disability
people who are nonverbal, can’t communicate/talk, have a speech impairment or disorder
people with cognitive, intellectual, learning, or developmental disabilities
mentally challenged, mentally retarded, slow, low-functioning
person with traumatic or acquired brain injury
child who is non-disabled or children without disabilities
healthy, able-bodied, normal, typically developing
person with a congenital disability
birth defect, abnormality
people who are deaf (use with profound hearing loss), have a hearing loss, or hard of hearing
the deaf, deaf person, deaf and dumb, hearing impaired
person with physical disability
person who is crippled, handicapped, deformed, has an abnormality, or that is physically challenged
persons of short stature
midget, dwarf, vertically challenged
people with emotional or psychiatric disabilities
the mentally ill, emotionally disturbed, bipolar, crazy
people with cerebral palsy, autism, diabetes, Tourette syndrome, dyslexia, epilepsy,
suffering from, afflicted with, victim of, or stricken with cerebral palsy, autism, diabetes, Tourette syndrome, dyslexia, epilepsy, etc
people with health/medical needs or specific related conditions
medically fragile, sick