Accessibility Tools

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.

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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