The Language of Disability: Do’s and Don’ts





 1. Wheelchair-bound/confined to Wheelchair user/ uses a wheelchair
 2. Suffers from/afflicted with/crippled by These terms make assumptions about how the disabled person feels about his/her disability. Use “has” and the name of condition (e.g., has cerebral palsy, has paraplegia, etc.)
 3. The disabled/the blind/the deaf Always use as an adjective rather than a noun – disabled person, blind filmmaker, deaf man or woman.
 4. Retarded/mentally retarded/retard Intellectual disability; cognitive disability; developmental disability. When using these terms, however, it is important to understand the distinctions among them.
 5. Handicapped (handicap) In general: If you’re not writing about sports, don’t use it! Use disability, disabled person, person with a disability.
 5a.   handicapped parking, restroom, etc. Accessible parking, restroom, etc.
 6. Midget/dwarf Little person; dwarf is acceptable only if the subject actually has dwarfism. Keep in mind: Anyone with dwarfism is a little person, but not every little person is a dwarf.
 7. Deaf-mute/deaf and dumb
Hard of hearing
 8. Physically challenged/differently abled Avoid outdated or saccharine terms and euphemisms. Use disabled as an adjective (e.g., disabled sportscaster) or person-first language (e.g., person with a disability).
 9. Overcoming/inspiring/brave/courageous Avoid patronizing and condescending descriptives – describe the person’s accomplishments without value judgment or interpretation.
 10. Special Do not use when referring to disabled people.


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