People First Language

Language is a reflection of how people see each other. It is for this very reason that the words we use can hurt. It is also why responsible communicators are now choosing language that reflects the dignity of people with disabilities—words that put the person first, rather than the disability. Read on for a short course on using language that empowers.

  • Think "people first." Say, "a woman who has intellectual disabilities" rather than an "intellectually disabled woman."
  • Avoid words like "unfortunate," "afflicted," and "victim." Try to avoid casting a person with a disability as a superhuman model of courage. People with disabilities are just people, not tragic figures or demigods.
  • Use common sense. Avoid terms with obvious negative or judgmental connotations, such as "crippled," "deaf and dumb," "lame," and defective." If you are not sure how to refer to a person’s condition, ask. And, if the disability is not relevant to your story or conversation, why mention it at all?
  • Never refer to a person as "confined to a wheelchair." Wheelchairs enable people to escape confinement. A person with mobility impairment "uses" a wheelchair. Try to describe people without disabilities as "typical" rather than "normal."

From Ohio Public Images/Public Images Network, a not-for profit communications and advocacy organization promoting positive awareness of people with disabilities. For more information, call (513) 275-0262 (Voice/TDD)



The handicapped or the disabled

People with disabilities

My child is autistic

My child has autism

She’s in Special Education

She receives Special Education services

Afflicted with, suffers from, a victim of…

Person who has…

Handicapped parking

Accessible parking

Confined to a wheelchair or wheelchair bound

Uses a wheelchair or is in a wheelchair

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