Language Guide on Disability
A PRIMER ON HOW TO SAY WHAT YOU MEAN TO SAY
Language is powerful! It reflects, reinforces,
and shapes our perceptions of people. Words
that reflect positive attitudes and awareness
help develop positive communication.
Words about disability have been strongly
affected by legal, medical, and political terms.
Consequently, our daily language is filled with
technical terms that often do not convey our
intended social message and are further
complicated by personal styles and preference.
The following suggestions are provided as a
guide to improve language usage about
disability. Most suggestions are just common
sense; but others are a matter of becoming
aware of appropriate, current terminology.
Using the right words can make a dramatic
difference in both our private and public
We are often not aware of the biases or
negative attitudes expressed in our language.
Eliminating the bad words is as important as
using the good words.
These words and expressions have strong
negative, derogatory connotations. They can
set a tone or establish barriers from the start.
Avoid using them and discourage their use by
PREFERRED TERMS AND EXPRESSIONS
These words and expressions are currently preferred
and reflect a positive attitude. Some language is
“trendy” and meanings may vary depending on context
and locale. Use the words below after “Person who
• deaf/hard of hearing
• mental retardation
• a psychiatric disability
• a wheelchair-user
EXAMPLE OF GOOD AND BAD USAGE
Language should accurately describe an individual
situation. It should emphasize the person first, rather
than the disability.
“Mr. Lee is a crippled teacher and confined to a
“Mr. Lee is a teacher with a disability. He is a
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT LANGUAGE?
We can educate.
We can seek positive
use of communication
We can inform.
We can politely correct
We can encour