Guidelines for Speaking and Writing about People with Disabilities
Positive language empowers. When writing or speaking about people with disabilities, it is important to reflect the individuality, equality or dignity of people with disabilities. When thinking about people with disabilities, think about people first.
Here is a set of guidelines to help you make better choices in terms of language and portrayal. These guidelines offer suggestions for appropriate ways to describe people with disabilities.
- Focus on the individual, not on his or her disability, which
is only one facet of the person. In all cases try to keep the person's disability in
proper perspective, without unduly magnifying its importance.
- Put people first, not their disability. When speaking or
writing, say woman with arthritis, children who are deaf, people with disabilities.
Crippled, deformed, suffers from, afflicted by, victim of the retarded, infirm, etc., are
- Emphasize abilities, not limitations. Consider uses a
wheelchair or walks with crutches rather than confined to a wheelchair or crippled.
Avoid use of inappropriate emotional descriptors such as unfortunate or pitiful.
- Portray successful people with disabilities as successful people, not super
humans. Even though the public may admire super achievers, portraying people
with disabilities as superstars raises false expectations that all people with
disabilities should achieve at this level.
- Be accurate in describing disabilities. For example, people
who had polio and experience after effects years later have a postpolio disability. They
do not have a disease. Reference to disease associated with a disability is acceptable
only with chronic diseases, such as arthritis, Parkinson's disease, or multiple sclerosis.
People with disabilities should not be referred to as "patients" or
"cases" unless the relationship with their doctor is being discussed.
|Partial List of Appropriate
|Persons with or who have:
||People who are:
||blind, visually impaired
||deaf, hearing impaired
|partial hearing loss
|specific learning disability
|Examples of positive
and negative phrases
|person who is blind; person who is visually
|person with a disability
||the disabled, handicapped
|person who is deaf; person who is hearing
impaired or hard of hearing
||suffers a hearing loss
|person who has multiple sclerosis, cerebral
palsy, muscular dystrophy, etc.
||afflicted by MS, CP victim, stricken by MD
|person with developmental disabilities
||retarded, mentally defective
|person with epilepsy, person with seizure
|person who uses a wheelchair
||confined or restricted to a wheelchair
|person without disabilities
||normal person (implies that person with a
disability isn't normal)
|person who has a cleft lip or cleft palate
||mongol or mongoloid
|person with a learning disability
||slow learner, retarded
||crippled, lame, deformed
|unable to speak, uses synthetic speech
||has overcome his or her disability; courageous
(when it implies the person has courage because of having a disability)
|person with mental illness, person with
|person who no longer lives in an institution
Information was compiled by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services from two sources: The President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, and Guidelines to Reporting and Writing About People With Disabilities, produced by the Research & Training Center at the University of Kansas.