One step in creating an accessible environment can be the language used to refer to individuals with disabilities. People-first language emphasizes the person, not the disability. Disability is not the primary, defining characteristic of an individual, but one of several aspects of the whole person.

People-first language are guidelines, especially for print and publications.

People-first Language Labels Not to Use
people with disabilities the handicapped or disabled
people with mental retardation the mentally retarded
he has a cognitive disability he’s retarded
my son has autism my son is autistic
she has Down syndrome she’s a Downs kid, a mongoloid
he has a learning disability he’s learning disabled
she has a physical disability she’s crippled
he’s of short stature or he’s short he’s a dwarf (or midget)
she has an emotional disability she’s emotionally disturbed
he uses a wheelchair he’s wheelchair bound or confined to a wheelchair
typical kids or kids without disabilities normal and/or healthy kid
she receives special ed services or additional support services she’s in special ed
accessible parking, bathrooms, etc. handicapped parking, bathrooms, etc.
she has a need for… she has a problem with…

Some exceptions

Deaf or hard of hearing—not “having a hearing impairment.”  Many people who are deaf and communicate with sign language consider themselves to be members of a cultural and linguistic minority. They refer to themselves as Deaf with a capital “D” and may be offended by the term “hearing impaired.”

“Crip” language as part of disability culture. People with disabilities may use the words “disabled” and “crip” to refer to themselves. They would also be likely to say, “I am blind,” or “I am a paraplegic.” However, people without disabilities should not use this terminology.

Remember that every person will have individual histories and preferences, and to respect each individual’s choice and preferences. If you don’t know, ask the person what is preferred.

Disability Stereotypes

Common stereotypes to avoid:

  • Putting the person with a disability on a pedestal.
  • Representing or treating a person with a disability as dependent or as an object of pity.
  • Representing the person with a disability as having special gifts or abilities because of his or her disability, i.e. the blind person who is musically gifted.

This page was compiled with information from

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