Words are powerful. Why is it important to use the right words when talking to, or about, persons with a disability? Most people do not want to offend a person with a disability but are not sure of the correct terminology. "Image" is the key word in discussing the effects of positive or negative language on individuals or groups. What image does a word create? We hear a word and consciously or subconsciously we associate that word with a positive or negative image in our minds. People are not born with prejudice or negative stereotypes toward different cultures or minorities; these are learned behaviors. If people are informed about the power of language they can learn to use language that shows respect and creates positive images.


Please Say Instead Of / Do Not Use

people with disabilities

person with a disability

person with mobility impairment

person with a physical disability

a disabled person

a cripple

handicapped / has a handicap

has a special need / special needs

Refer to the person first, such as:

Kumar has multiple sclerosis.

Costos has cerebral palsy.

Jannine has muscular dystrophy.

he / she is crippled by

suffers from, afflicted by, victim, invalid, stricken with, spastic

patient (OK to use if undergoing medical treatment)

Or, describe the person’s needs, and omit the diagnosis.

Blake uses a power chair José writes on a computer Aletha needs behaviour supports

Blake is a paraplegic

José can’t use a pen

Aletha has behaviour problems

Persons with disabilities are part of the community. They live, work, raise children, pay bills, shop, go to restaurants, drive, and enjoy sports and recreation where they live, not in a "special community" somewhere else.

those people

people like that

those poor people

the disabled community

children without disabilities able-bodied children normal, whole, healthy, typical kids (implies that a child with a disability is not normal or healthy)
able-bodied normal, average (acceptable only for statistics)

A wheelchair enables mobility.

For the person who uses a wheelchair, scooter, or other mobility aid, it facilitates independence, freedom, and speed.

He uses a wheelchair.

She walks with crutches, a walker, or canes.

She’s confined to a wheelchair

He’s restricted to a wheelchair

I would hate to be wheelchair bound

He has to use a wheelchair

accessible parking space...

hotel is accessible...

handicapped zone...

hotel rooms are for handicapped...

she needs...

he uses...

she has a problem with...

he has special needs...