Language is a reflection of how people see each other. It is often the reason that the words we use can hurt others. We need to choose language that reflects the dignity of people with disabilities. Choosing words that put the person before the disability can have a more positive and helpful dialogue.
- Think “people first”. Say, “a student who has an intellectual disability” rather than “a intellectually disabled student.”
- Never refer to a person as “confined to a wheelchair.” Wheelchairs allow people to escape confinement. A person with an orthopedic impairment “uses” a wheelchair for mobility.
- Try to describe people without a disability as “typical” rather than “normal.”
- Avoid words like “unfortunate,” “victim,” or “afflicted.” Try to avoid casting a person with a disability as somehow a superhuman because they “overcame” their “problem.” Most people with disabilities do not want to be thought of as tragic figures. They just want to be thought of as people.
- Use common sense. Try to avoid using negative words like “crippled,” “slow,” or “deaf and dumb.” These terms are not usually relevant to any conversation about people and are never accurate. If you do not know how to refer to someone with a disability, ask.
Some helpful examples:
- The handicapped or the disabled becomes…People with disabilities
- My child is autistic becomes….My child has autism
- She’s in Special Education becomes…She receives Special Education services
- Afflicted with…suffers from…is stricken with becomes…Person who has
- Confined to a wheelchair or wheelchair bound becomes…Uses a wheelchair
- Handicapped parking is accessible parking
The term “handicapped” comes from the act of persons with disabilities in history who had to stand on the street corner with their cap in their hand begging for help.