Inclusive language: words to use and avoid when writing about disability

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  • #140422 Reply

    Consider these guidelines when communicating with or about disabled people.

    1. Language guidelines
    Not everyone will agree on everything but there is general agreement on some basic guidelines.

    1.1 Collective terms and labels
    The word ‘disabled’ is a description not a group of people. Use ‘disabled people’ not ‘the disabled’ as the collective term.

    However, many deaf people whose first language is BSL consider themselves part of ‘the deaf community’ – they may describe themselves as ‘Deaf’, with a capital D, to emphasise their deaf identity.

    Avoid medical labels. They say little about people as individuals and tend to reinforce stereotypes of disabled people as ‘patients’ or unwell.

    Don’t automatically refer to ‘disabled people’ in all communications – many people who need disability benefits and services don’t identify with this term. Consider using ‘people with health conditions or impairments’ if it seems more appropriate.

    1.2 Positive not negative
    Avoid phrases like ‘suffers from’ which suggest discomfort, constant pain and a sense of hopelessness.

    Wheelchair users may not view themselves as ‘confined to’ a wheelchair – try thinking of it as a mobility aid instead.

    1.3 Everyday phrases
    Most disabled people are comfortable with the words used to describe daily living. People who use wheelchairs ‘go for walks’ and people with visual impairments may be very pleased – or not – ‘to see you’. An impairment may just mean that some things are done in a different way.

    Common phrases that may associate impairments with negative things should be avoided, for example ‘deaf to our pleas’ or ‘blind drunk’.

    2. Words to use and avoid
    Avoid passive, victim words. Use language that respects disabled people as active individuals with control over their own lives.

    (the) handicapped, (the) disabled
    disabled (people)
    afflicted by, suffers from, victim of
    has [name of condition or impairment]
    confined to a wheelchair, wheelchair-bound
    wheelchair user
    mentally handicapped, mentally defective, retarded, subnormal
    with a learning disability (singular) with learning disabilities (plural)
    cripple, invalid
    disabled person
    person with cerebral palsy
    mental patient, insane, mad
    person with a mental health condition
    deaf and dumb; deaf mute
    deaf, user of British Sign Language (BSL), person with a hearing impairment
    the blind
    people with visual impairments; blind people; blind and partially sighted people
    an epileptic, diabetic, depressive, and so on
    person with epilepsy, diabetes, depression or someone who has epilepsy, diabetes, depression
    dwarf; midget
    someone with restricted growth or short stature
    fits, spells, attacks
    3. Some tips on behaviour
    use a normal tone of voice, don’t patronise or talk down
    don’t be too precious or too politically correct – being super-sensitive to the right and wrong language and depictions will stop you doing anything
    never attempt to speak or finish a sentence for the person you are talking to
    address disabled people in the same way as you talk to everyone else
    speak directly to a disabled person, even if they have an interpreter or companion with them

Viewing 4 replies - 1 through 4 (of 4 total)
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  • #140423 Reply

    This made interesting reading what’s your thoughts,

    #140439 Reply

    Interesting reading or simply worrying, after reading that the contact with the above mentioned could go something like..

    Hello (full on wave)

    immediately followed by

    Goodbye (fast half wave)

    phew safe as..

    sad really… maybe


    #140445 Reply

    Some years ago my wife and I were visiting a hotel which catered specially for people with guide dogs; was writing a feature article for other hotel owners about what you need to do for these folks. Not wishing to upset or offended anyone, checked the correct, accepted language to use – “visually impaired” not ever “blind”. At breakfast on first morning, a very elegant, charming lady (with equally charming dog) leaned over to us and said, “I say, you’re not blind are you?”

    #140452 Reply

    Fact here martinod, some will always be be offended.

    The instructions seem to in an ideal world, in which we don’t live and probably never will.

    Its the easiest thing in the world  to suddenly decide to be offended.


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