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Disability Language Guide: Writing, Referring To, and Talking to People with Disabilities

Disability Language Guide: Writing, Referring To, and Talking to People with Disabilities

The way we write about, refer to, and talk to people with disability is important. Words are powerful.

We have put together the below guide to assist you in being inclusive with written and spoken language. This blog post details focusing on strengths based language, with an emphasis on abiliites and not limitations.


In a nutshell, when writing about people with disability:
• emphasize abilities, not limitations
• ask people if they would like to disclose their disability before disclosing publicly
• refer to the person first, and theirdisability second
• portray successful people with a disability in a balanced manner, not as heroic or superhuman
• do not mention someone’s disability unless it is essential to your story
• do not use offensive or condescending language.

When talking to people with disability:
• never speak about the person assuming they don’t understand or cannot respond.
• look them in the eyes and talk to them directly – don’t talk to their Support Worker and/or Mentor, interpreter, family member, or companion instead. And listen attentively!
• remember, adults with disabilities are adults – speak to them as adults.
• don’t touch or talk to a guide dog or service animal – these animals are working so shouldn’t be distracted.
• do not touch a person’s mobility equipment without permission.

As a general rule (there are always exceptions and personal preferences), here are some examples of do’s and don’ts:

Use “person with a disability, people with disabilities” | Don’t use “Disabled person; the disabled”

Use “Person with paraplegia” | Don’t use “paraplegic; paraplegic man”

Use “person with a learning disability” | Don’t use “slow learner”

Use “student receiving special education services” | Don’t use “special education student”

Use “a person of short stature” or “little person” | Don’t use “dwarf” or “midget”

Use “person who uses a wheelchair” | Don’t use “wheelchair bound”

Use “person who uses a communication device” or “person who uses an alternative method of communication” | Don’t use “is non-verbal” or “can’t talk”

Use “accessible parking” | Don’t use “handicapped parking”

 “accessible bathroom” or “accessible restroom” | Don’t use “disabled restroom” or “disabled bathroom”

 “person without disabilities” | Don’t use “normal” or “able-bodied person”

Information derived from and

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We make a difference by providing personalised care to every individual and their aspirations. Through working with a diverse group of service providers we can ensure support for you in a timely, innovative, and flexible way. View our NDIS supports here.