General Etiquette for Writing and Talking About People with Disabilities

  • People with disabilities prefer to be called people with disabilities, not disabled people
  • People with Disabilities are not conditions or diseases. They are individuals first and only secondarily do they have one or more disabling conditions.
Writing or Talking About People with Disabilities
Acceptable Terms Unacceptable Terms
Person with a disability, people who are disabled Handicap, handicapped person, afflicted
Person who is blind, partially sighted, Low vision, visually impaired The Blind
People with cerebral palsy, people with a spinal cord injury, muscular dystrophy Cerebral palsied, spinal cord injured etc. Never identify people solely by their disability.
Deaf, Hard of Hearing Deaf and Dumb — is as bad as it sounds. Inability to hear or speak does not suggest intelligence. Hearing impaired
Person who has a psychiatric disability Psycho, nuts, crazy, schizo, schizophrenic, emotionally disturbed or ill.
Person who has a developmental disability Retarded, childlike
Uses a wheelchair or crutches, a wheelchair user, walks with crutches Crippled, confined/restricted to a wheelchair, wheelchair bound. Most people who use a wheelchair or mobility device do not regard them as confining.
People who do not have a disability Normal–when used as the opposite of “disabled”– implies the person is abnormal.
Person with a Seizure Disorder, He just had a seizure That Epileptic; He took a fit

*Taken from the Oklahoma Disability Etiquette Handbook, from the Office of Handicapped Concerns, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 1993 and updated by The Learning Accommodations Center, Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill, MA, 2001