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Disability Terminology Etiquette

By Janine Diana, VP of People & Culture, EAA Lifetime 1082064

June 2015 - Words are powerful tools. Using terminology that is not offensive to another individual or group is important. What is a disability? A disability is a condition caused by an accident, trauma, genetics, or disease that may limit a person’s mobility, hearing, vision, speech, or mental function. Some people with disabilities have one or more disabilities.

Individuals with disabilities are people. Language we use to describe someone usually creates an attitude. Just as some famous four-letters words are offensive, so are some words used in referring to people with disabilities. These terms should be avoided when speaking to or about people with disabilities:

  • Afflicted
  • Cerebral palsied
  • Confined to a wheelchair
  • Courageous
  • Unfortunate
  • Burden
  • Deaf and dumb or deaf mute
  • Handicapped
  • Incapacitated
  • Deformed
  • Cripple
  • Wheelchair-bound
  • Retard
  • Suffering
  • Hearing impaired
  • Victim

Understanding the proper terminology and how to address people with disabilities is important to not offend. Hint: Always remember the person comes before the disability. For example, “a person with MS,” or “Jane, who has cerebral palsy,” etc.

Proper Terminology

A person who is:

  • Blind, visually impaired
  • Deaf, hard of hearing
  • Physically disabled

A person who has:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Polio

Appropriate phrases:

  • A women who uses a wheelchair
  • A person with a spinal cord injury
  • An employee with arthritis
  • A child who uses a communication device
  • A person with a mental illness

Keep this as a reference to review. It can make a difference when interacting with people with disabilities.

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