The following disability etiquette terms serve as a guide to more respectfully communicate with people with disabilities in all types of settings.
Acceptable: Disability, a general term used for functional limitation that interferes with a person's ability, for example, to walk, hear or lift. It may refer to a physical, mental or sensory condition.
Unacceptable: Handicap, handicapped person or handicapped.
Acceptable: Person with a disability.
Unacceptable: Cripple, crippled or deformed.
Acceptable: Use a wheelchair or crutches; a wheelchair user; walks with crutches.
Unacceptable: Confined/restricted to a wheelchair; wheelchair bound. Most people who use a wheelchair or mobility devices do not regard them as confining. They are viewed as liberating; a means of getting around.
Acceptable: People with cerebral palsy, people with spinal cord injuries.
Unacceptable: Cerebral palsied, spinal cord injured, etc. Never identify people solely by their disability.
Acceptable: Person who had a spinal cord injury, polio, a stroke, etc. or a person who has multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, arthritis, etc.
Unacceptable: Victim. People with disabilities do not like to be perceived as victims for the rest of their lives, long after any victimization has occurred.
Acceptable: Has a disability, has a condition of (spina bifida, etc.), or born without legs.
Unacceptable: Defective or deformed. These words are dehumanizing, degrading and stigmatizing.
Acceptable: Deafness/hearing impairment. Deafness refers to a person who has a total loss of hearing. Hearing impairment refers to a person who has a partial loss of hearing within a range from slight to severe. Hard of hearing describes a hearing-impaired person who usually has listening and hearing abilities adequate for most communication needs.
Unacceptable: Deaf and dumb is as bad as it sounds. The inability to hear or speak does not indicate intelligence.
Acceptable: Person who has a mental or developmental disability.
Unacceptable: Retarded. Thise term is offensive to individuals.
Acceptable: Able-bodied; able to walk, see, hear, etc.; people who are not disabled.
Unacceptable: Healthy, when used to contrast with "disabled." Healthy implies that the person with a disability is unhealthy. Many people with disabilities have excellent health.
Acceptable: People who do not have a disability.
Unacceptable: Normal. When used as the opposite of disabled, this implies that the person is abnormal. No one wants to be labeled as abnormal.
Acceptable: A person who has (name of disability.) Example: A person who has multiple sclerosis.
Unacceptable: Afflicted with, suffers from. Most people with disabilities do not regard themselves as afflicted or suffering continually.
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Source: Disability etiquette terms by the City of Sacramento, California Access Office. The website is cityofsacramento.org.
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