Words With Dignity
- person with a disability/disabled
- person who has/person with (e.g. person who has cerebral palsy)
- uses a wheelchair
- deaf/does not voice for themselves/nonvocal
- disabled since birth/born with psychiatric history/psychiatric disability/emotional disorder/mental illness
- learning disability/mental retardation/developmental delay/ADD/ADHD
Avoid These Words
- cripple/handicapped/handicap/invalid (literally, invalid means “not valid”
- victim/afflicted with (e.g. victim of cerebral palsy)
- restricted, confined to a wheelchair/wheelchairbound (the chair enables mobility. Without the chair, the person is confined to bed)
- deaf mute/deaf and dumb
- birth defect
- crazy/insane/lunatic/mental patient/wacko fits
Avoid These Terms (They evoke fear, pity or cover up one’s identity.)
abnormal, burden, condition, deformed, differently abled, disfigured, handi-capable, incapacitated, imbecile, maniac, maimed, madman, moron, palsied, pathetic, physically challenged, pitiful, poor, spastic, stricken with, suffer, tragedy, unfortunate, victim
Make reference to the person first then the disability. Say “a person with a disability” rather than “a disabled person.” However, the latter is acceptable in the interest of conserving print space or saving announcing time.
The term “handicapped” comes from the image of a person standing on the corner with a cap in hand, begging for money. People with disabilities do not want to be the recipients of charity or pity. They want to participate equally with the rest of the community. A disability is a functional limitation that interferes with a person’s ability to walk, hear, talk, learn, etc. Use “handicap” to describe a situation or barrier imposed by society, the environment or oneself.
If the disability isn’t germane to the story or conversation, don’t mention it.
Remember, a person who has a disability isn’t necessarily chronically sick or unhealthy. He or she is often just disabled.
A person is not a condition, so avoid describing a person as such. Don’t present someone as “an epileptic” or “a post polio”. Instead, say “a person with epilepsy” or “a person who has had polio.”
Don’t feel obligated to act as a caregiver to people with disabilities. Offer assistance, but wait until your offer is accepted before you help. Listen to any instructions the person may give.
Leaning on a person’s wheelchair is similar to leaning or hanging on a person. It is considered annoying and rude. The chair is a part of one’s personal body space. Don’t hang on it!
Share the same social courtesies with people with disabilities that you would share with someone else. If you shake hands with people you meet, offer your hand to everyone you meet, regardless of disability. If the person is unable to shake your hand, he or she will tell you.
When offering assistance to a person with a visual impairment, allow that person to take your arm. This will enable you to guide, rather than propel or lead the person. Use specific directions, such as “left one-hundred feet” or right two yards,” when directing a person with a visual impairment.
When planning events which involve persons with disabilities, consider their needs before choosing a location. Even if people with disabilities will not attend, select an accessible spot. You wouldn’t think of holding an event where other minorities could not attend, so don’t.