Things to Say & Not Say

People with disabilities are people first. They prefer the focus to be on their individuality, not on their disability. The language used to portray individuals with disabilities is often a barrier to access and acceptance in the community.


Don't Say Say

Handicap, handicapped.

Disability, or person with a disability. Emphasize the person, not the disability.

Victim of or afflicted with a stroke, polio, muscular dystrophy, etc.

Person who uses a wheelchair or has a wheelchair.  Most people who use a wheelchair do not regard them as confining.  They are viewed as liberating. 

Deaf and dumb.

A person who is deaf, hearing impaired, or hard of hearing.  Most deaf individuals are capable of speech.  An inability to hear or speak does not indicate lowered intelligence.

Normal, healthy (when used as the opposite of disabled).


The deaf.  The visually impaired.  The disabled.

A person who is deaf, etc.  State the person or individual before the disability.

Spastic, Mongoloid, crazy, deformed, defective, crippled.  These words are offensive, dehumanizing, degrading and stigmatizing.

When it is appropriate to refer to an individual’s disability, choose the correct terminology for specific disability.  Use terms such as cerebral palsy, Down’s Syndrome, mental illness, spina bifida, quadriplegia, seizure disorder, speech impairment, or specific learning disability.