The Language of Disabilities
People with disabilities prefer that you focus on their
individuality, not their disability, unless, of course, it is the topic about which you are
writing or speaking. The term “handicapped” is falling into disuse and should
be avoided. The terms “ablebodied,” “physically challenged” and “differently
abled” are also discouraged.
The following are some recommendations:
Never use the article “the” with an adjective to describe
people with disabilities. This preferred usage, “people with disabilities,”
stresses the essential humanity of individuals and avoids objectification.
Alternatively, the term “disabled people” is acceptable, but note that this term
still defines people as disabled first and people second.
deaf, BUT people who are deaf (or hard of hearing)
visually impaired, BUT people who are visually impaired
disabled, BUT people with disabilities
Be careful not to imply either that people with
disabilities are to be pitied, feared, or ignored, or that they are somehow more
heroic, courageous, patient or “special” than others. Never use the term
“normal” in contrast.
A person in a wheelchair is a “wheelchair user” or “uses a
wheelchair.” Avoid terms that define the disability as a limitation, such as
“confined to a wheelchair,” or “wheelchair-bound.” A wheelchair
liberates, it doesn’t confine!
Never use the term “victim” or “sufferer” to refer to a
person who has or has had a disease or disability. This term dehumanizes the
person and emphasizes powerlessness.
NOT a victim
of AIDS, or AIDS sufferer, BUT a person with AIDS
NOT a polio
victim, BUT a person who had polio