Words With Dignity

Words With Dignity:

Unhandicapping Our Language

People with a disability can and should be described in words and expressions that portray them in an appropriate, positive, and sensitive manner.  The following guidelines are suggested/preferred by organizations that represent or are associated with Canadians with a disability.

Please remember: Describe the person, not the disability: Refer to a person’s disability only when it is relevant.  Avoid images to evoke pity or guilt.

Handicap and disability don’t mean the same thing.  A disability is a specific impairment that causes a lack of function, e.g. visual impairment.  A handicap is a disadvantage that results from impairment, e.g. lack of employment and no access to buildings

Instead of ….. Use ……..
disabled, the disabled, the handicapped, special, deformed, disabled since birth person or persons with a disability
invalid person with a disability
crippled by, afflicted with, or suffers from, stricken with, coping with person who has … or person with …. (example: person who has diabetes, person with arthritis)
physically challenged person with a disability
victim, sufferer, person with a disability
cripple, crippled, maimed, person with a disability
lame or mobility impaired person with limited mobility, person with a spinal cord injury, person with polio, person with a mobility disability
homebound hard for the person to get out.
confined to a wheelchair, bound, restricted or dependent on a wheelchair, burdened, less fortunate, wheelchair case, person who is a wheelchair user, person who uses a wheelchair
mentally ill, insane, crazy, mental patient, wacko, lunatic, manic, madman, psycho, nutcase person with mental illness, person with mental health issues, person with schizophrenia, psychiatric history, emotional disorder
the deaf, the hearing impaired person who is Deaf, person who is hearing impaired
deaf and dumb, deaf mute person who is Deaf, person who is hard of hearing, does not voice for themselves, non-vocal
developmentally delayed, retarded, slow, lazy,
mentally retarded, mentally challenged, mentally handicapped, stupid, underachiever, imbecile, moron, braindamaged, idiot
person with an intellectual disability or person with a developmental disability, learning disability, ADD/ADHD, brain-injured, person has a mental disability,
spastic (as a noun), palsied person with cerebral palsy
fit, attack, spell seizures or epilepsy
autistics person with autism
stutterer person with a speech impairment
MS person person with multiple sclerosis
deformed, congenital defect, birth defect, disfigured, incapacitated, vegetable, defective a person born with ….. has the condition of spina bifida.
the learning disabled person with a learning disability
inarticulate, incoherent person who has
the blind, blind as a bat person who is blind, person who is visually impaired,
has limited or partial vision, person who is partially sighted, legally blind, with low vision, total or severe loss of vision
handicapped/disabled parking/washrooms accessible parking, accessible washrooms
normal person without a disability, able-bodied, or nondisabled
disabled sport sport for athletes with disabilities
disabled community disability community

The terms paraplegic, quadriplegic, amputee are used and accepted by persons with those disabilities.

Stress ability rather than disability.  A person has the disability.  It’s not the other way around.  If a disability isn’t relevant, don’t mention it.
The deaf accountant spotted the error. The accountant spotted the error.
An epileptic, John has no trouble doing his job John’s performance is satisfactory.
He does a fine job, for a blind man. He does a fine job.
Article on a blind person, who performs a job usually done by a sighted person Article on a technological aid that assists an employee with a visual impairment.
Don’t take on a condescending or patronizing tone in articles or stories about people with disabilities.  Making those who succeed “super human” says that people with disabilities usually have no outstanding talents.
Mary has such courage. Mary does a good job.
Isn’t it amazing how she manages to do a good job even though she’s handicapped. She does a good job.
We need to recognize on-the-job barriers for handicapped workers. We need to recognize barriers for workers with disabilities that can handicap them on the job.
The handicapped child can’t use the stairs. the stairs are a handicap for the child.
a patient in a group home. person lives in a group home.
aids for the handicapped aids for independent living


Speaking with People with Disabilities 

  • Remember that I am a person first; and also happen to have a disability. If you need information about the disability, don’t hesitate to ask me about it directly.  Ask me how you should refer to my disability.
  • Ask if assistance is needed rather than assuming it is. I may wish to do things on my own. Then be sure to follow my instructions to avoid possible injury to me or to yourself.
  • Do not assume that a person with one disability also has others.
  • Maintain eye contact and talk to me even if I am using an interpreter. Use the first person when speaking directly to me. Don’t say to an interpreter, “Ask her if she understood”. Instead, look directly at me and say, “Did you understand?”
  • If I have a speech impairment or use an augmentative communication system, be patient and give me time to respond to your question.
  • Don’t try to finish a sentence for me. If you don’t understand what I’ve said, say so and ask me to repeat the statement or say it another way.
  • Use a normal tone of voice. You don’t need to speak loudly.
  • Do not lean on a wheelchair or distract a working animal. Do not play with assistive equipment.
  • Don’t hesitate to use common, everyday expressions. It’s okay to say “See you later” to a person who is blind, or “Let’s go for a walk” to a person in a wheelchair.