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Watch Your Language!

The words we use to describe one another can have an enormous impact on the perceptions we and others have, how we treat one another, mutual expectations, and how welcome we make people feel. The following are guidelines for talking with, and about, a person with a disability. While these guidelines can be helpful, keep in mind the following:

General Guidelines

OUTDATED OR OFFENSIVE

REASON(S)

CURRENTLY ACCEPTED*

"The" anything:
The blind
The disabled
The autistic

Views people in terms of their disability
Groups people into one undifferentiated category
Condescending
Does not reflect the individuality, equality, or dignity of people with disabilities

- People with disabilities
- Deaf people
- People who are blind
- People who are visually impaired
- People with autism

Handicapped

Outdated;
connotes that people with disabilities need charity
Disabilities don't handicap: Attitudes and architecture handicap

People with disabilities

The disabled

An individual is a person before one is disabled. People with disabilities are individuals who share a common condition.

People with disabilities

Admits she/he has a disability

Disability is not something people "admit" to or needs to be admitted to

Says she/he has a disability

Normal, healthy, whole
(when speaking about people without disabilities as compared to people with disabilities)

People with disabilities may also be normal, healthy, and whole

Implies that the person with a disability isn't normal

- Non-disabled
- Person without a disability

Courageous

Implies person has courage because of having a disability

- Has overcome his/her disability

- Successful, productive

Specific Disabilities and Conditions

OUTDATED OR OFFENSIVE

REASON(S)

CURRENTLY ACCEPTED*

Deaf and dumb
Dumb
Deaf-mute

Implies mental incapacitation
Simply because someone is deaf does not mean that they cannot speak

- Deaf
- Non-verbal
- Hard of hearing
- Person who does not speak
- Unable to speak
- Uses synthetic speech

Hearing-impaired
Suffers a hearing loss

Negative connotation of "impaired," "suffers"

- Deaf
- Hard of hearing

Slurred speech
Unintelligible speech

Stigmatizing

- Person/people with a communication disability
- Person/people with slow speech

Confined to a wheelchair
Wheelchair-bound

Wheelchairs don't confine; they make people mobile

- Uses a wheelchair
- Wheelchair user
- Person who uses a wheelchair

Cripple
Crippled

From Old English, meaning "to creep";
was also used to mean "inferior"
Dehumanizing

- Has a disability
- Physical disability

Deformed
Freak
Vegetable

Connotes repulsiveness, oddness
Dehumanizing

- Multiple disabilities
- Severe disabilities

Crazy
Insane
Psycho
Maniac
Nut Case

Stigmatizing
Considered offensive
Reinforces negative stereotypes

- Behavior disability
- Emotional disability
- Person with mental illness
- Person with a psychiatric disability

Retarded
Retardate
Mentally defective
Slow
Simple
Moron
Idiot

Stigmatizing
Implies that a person cannot learn

- Developmentally delayed
- Developmental disability (the term "mental retardation" is no longer acceptable )

Mongoloid

Considered offensive

Person with Down syndrome

Stricken/Afflicted by MS

Negative connotation of "afflicted," "stricken"

Person who has multiple sclerosis

CP victim

Cerebral palsy does not make a person a "victim"

Person with cerebral palsy

Epileptic

Not "person-first" language
Stigmatizing

- Person with epilepsy
- Person with seizure disorder

Fit

Reinforces negative stereotypes

Seizure

Birth defect

Implies there was something wrong with the birth

Congenital disability

Deinstitutionalized

Stigmatizing
Groups people into one category
Not focused on the individual

Person who used to live in an institution

Midget

Outdated term
Considered offensive

Person of short stature

* All currently accepted terms should be used with "people-first" language - i.e., "people with...," "person with...." The exception to this are "deaf people" and "deaf community," which are fine.

Adapted from material developed by : Mid-Hudson Library System, Outreach Services Department, 103 Market Street, Poughkeepsie, NY 12601 (914) 471-6006.