Communicating With and About People with Disabilities
About 1 in 4, or 61 million, U.S. adults reports having some form of a disability.1 Disability is part of the human experience, but sometimes people use words or phrases that are insensitive and do not promote understanding, dignity, and respect for people with disabilities. Most often than not, this is not intentional, but is disrespectful just the same.
- People-first language is the best place to start when talking to a person with a disability.
- If you are unsure, ask the person how he or she would like to be described.
- It is important to remember that preferences can vary.
People First Language
People-first language is used to communicate appropriately and respectfully with and about an individual with a disability. People-first language emphasizes the person first, not the disability. For example, when referring to a person with a disability, refer to the person first, by using phrases such as, “a person who …”, “a person with …” or, “person who has …”
These are some general tips you can follow:
|Tips||Use||Do not use|
|Emphasize abilities, not limitations||Person who uses a wheelchair||Confined or restricted to a wheelchair, wheelchair bound|
|Person who uses a device to speak||Can’t talk, mute|
|Do not use language that suggests the lack of something||Person with a disability||Disabled, handicapped|
|Person of short stature||Midget|
|Person with cerebral palsy||Cerebral palsy victim|
|Person with epilepsy or seizure disorder||Epileptic|
|Person with multiple sclerosis||Afflicted by multiple sclerosis|
|Emphasize the need for accessibility, not the disability||Accessible parking or bathroom||Handicapped parking or bathroom|
|Do not use offensive language||Person with a physical disability||Crippled, lame, deformed, invalid, spastic|
|Person with an intellectual, cognitive, developmental disability||Slow, simple, moronic, defective, afflicted, special person|
|Person with an emotional or behavioral disability, a mental health impairment, or a psychiatric disability||Insane, crazy, psycho, maniac, nuts|
|Avoid language that implies negative stereotypes||Person without a disability||Normal person, healthy person|
|Do not portray people with disabilities as inspirational only because of their disability||Person who is successful, productive||Has overcome his/her disability, is courageous|
- Okoro CA, Hollis ND, Cyrus AC, Griffin-Blake S. Prevalence of Disabilities and Health Care Access by Disability Status and Type Among Adults— United States, 2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2018; 67:882–887. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6732a3l.