Language shapes the way we view the world. The words we use influences community attitudes – both positively and negatively – and impacts on the lives of others.
How we write and speak about people with disability can have a profound effect on the way they are viewed by the community and themselves. Some words, by their very nature, degrade and diminish people with disability. Other words perpetuate inaccurate stereotypes.
When referring to people with disabilities, choose words that reflect dignity and respect. Use language that describes the person’s disability without defining the individual as his or her disability.
The following are just some examples of INAPPROPRIATE and APPROPRIATE words.
Instead of “The disabled, the handicapped” – Use “People with disabilities, the disability community”
Instead of “Crippled, suffers from, afflicted with, Stricken with, victim of, invalid” – use “Has a disability, is a person with a disability”
Instead of “Normal person, healthy, whole” – use “People without disabilities, able-bodied, person who is able to walk, person who can see, etc.”
Instead of “The blind, the deaf” – use “Person who is blind, person who is deaf or hard of hearing”
Instead of “Wheelchair bound, confined or restricted to a wheelchair” – use “Person who uses a wheelchair, wheelchair user”
Instead of “Handicap parking” – use “Accessible parking, parking for people with disabilities”
Instead of “Dumb, mute” – use “Person who cannot speak, has difficulty speaking, uses synthetic speech, is non-vocal, non-verbal”
Instead of “Stutterer, tongue-tied” – use “Person with a speech impairment, who has a speech disability, speech disorder, or communication disability”
Instead of “CP victim, spastic” – Use “Person with cerebral palsy”
Instead of “Crippled, lame, deformed” – use “Person with a disability, walks with a cane, uses leg braces”
Instead of “Epileptic” – use “Person with epilepsy, person with seizure disorder Fit, attack Seizure, epileptic episode or event”
Instead of “Crazy, maniac, lunatic, insane, nuts, deranged, psycho, demented” – use “People with emotional disorders, mental illness, mental health disability, psychiatric disability”
Instead of “Retard, mentally defective, moron, idiot, slow, imbecile, feeble-minded, Down’s person, mongoloid” – use “Person with a developmental disability, person with a developmental delay, person with Down syndrome or person who is brain injured, has traumatic brain injury, is brain damaged, with a closed head injury”
Instead of “Slow learner, retarded” – use “Person who has a learning disability”
Instead of “Dwarf, midget” – use “Short stature, little person”
Instead of “Paraplegic, quadriplegic” – use “Person with spinal cord injury, man with paraplegia, woman who is paralyzed”
Instead of “Birth defect” – use “Congenital disability, birth anomaly”
Instead of “A post-polio, suffered from polio” – use “Has had polio, experienced polio”
Instead of “Home-bound” – use “Stay-at-home, hard for the person to get out”
Instead of “Senile, demented” – use “Person with Alzheimer’s disease, person who has dementia”
The Persons with Disabilities Act no. 6 of 2012 in part 2, section 6 prohibits any form of discrimination and use of derogatory names.
6(1): A person shall not discriminate against a person with disability on the basis of disability
6(2): A person shall not exploit or subject a person with disability to abusive, violent or degrading treatment including their gender-based aspects
6(3): A person shall not call a person with disability any derogatory name because of the disability of that person.