When talking to and about individuals with disabilities, it is important to use language that reflects dignity and respect.

People with disabilities are people first, just like everyone else.
Therefore, it is always best to address them by their names.

A smiling young woman kneels to meet a girl in a wheelchair eye-to-eye.

Here are some tips on speaking about disability:

Use People First Language

Utilizing People First Language (PFL) is a way to emphasize the person, not the disability they live with.

Examples of People First Language include saying:

  • “Person with a disability” instead of “disabled person” or “handicapped person”
  • “Person who uses a wheelchair” instead of “crippled” or “confined to a wheelchair”
  • “Person who is blind” instead of “the blind”

Be Aware of Outdated Language

The language surrounding disabilities has changed over time. Although some words and phrases have been commonly used in the past, they can be disrespectful towards people with disabilities and should be avoided. Some words and phrases to avoid using include:

  • Handicap/Handicapped. Instead, when referring to accommodations for people with disabilities, use the term “accessible.”
  • Differently-abled/Special Needs.  Both of these terms are euphemistic and it is typically more appropriate to say “disability” or “person with a disability.”
  • Cripple/Crippled. Instead, use the term “person with a physical/mobility disability.”
  • Retard/Retarded. Instead, use the term “person with a cognitive/developmental disability.”

Avoid Adjectives that Limit and Alienate

Again, it is important to remember that people with disabilities are people first. Avoid using these words to describe people with disabilities:

  • Limited
  • Abnormal
  • Impaired
  • Afflicted
  • Poor/Unfortunate

Stay Away from Using the Word “Inspirational”

Avoid using the word “inspirational”—and similar words such as “courageous” and “special”—when generally describing people with disabilities.

Although these terms are often intended as a compliment, they can, in reality, be dehumanizing.

People with disabilities want to be acknowledged for their own, individualized skills and talents rather than being labeled “inspirational” for having a disability.

Instead, get to know individuals with disabilities like you would anyone else and compliment specific talents and traits that you admire in them.