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Guide to Appropriate Language with Disabled People

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  • Use “disability” rather than “handicap” to refer to a person’s disability.
    Avoid referring to people with disabilities as “the disabled, the blind, the epileptics, the retarded, a quadriplegic,” etc. Descriptive terms should be used as adjectives, not as nouns.
  • Avoid negative or sensational descriptions of a person’s disability. Don’t say “suffers from,” “a victim of,” or “afflicted with.”
  • Never say “invalid.” These portrayals elicit unwanted sympathy, or worse, pity towards individuals with disabilities.
  • Don’t use “normal” to describe people who don’t have disabilities. It is better to say “people without disabilities” or “typical,” if necessary to make comparisons.
  • Never assume that a person with a communication disorder (speech impediment, hearing loss, motor impairment) also has a cognitive disability, such as mental retardation. On the other hand, people with mental retardation often speak well.
  • Use the terms ‘wheelchair user’ or ‘uses a wheelchair’. Avoid the terms ‘wheelchair-bound’ or ‘confined to a wheelchair’.
  • Use the terms as cerebral palsy (CP) or other condition. Avoid the term ‘a victim of cerebral palsy’.
  • Use the terms ‘child with a developmental delay’ (DD); or ‘person with a developmental disability’. Avoid the term ‘slow’.
  • Avoid the terms the ‘epileptic’ (to describe a person); the epileptics fits; or epileptic fits, use the terms ‘person who has epilepsy’ ‘people with seizure disorders’
  • Use the term speech or communication disability. Avoid the term tongue-tied, or mute.
    In reference to people who are unable to speak, mute and deaf-mute are now usually considered objectionable. They are taken to mean pitiable or helpless. Use instead a phrase such as “deaf and speech-disabled”
  • Deaf and Dumb: This term to describe a person who is unable to hear and speak is not acceptable since the word “dumb” has negative connotations. Use instead a phrase such as “deaf and speech-disabled” or, if the hearing loss is partial, “hard of hearing and speech-disabled”. “Mute” is similarly unacceptable.

(For a detailed discussion on the subject, refer Dictionary of Disability Terminology, by Ron-Chandran and Dudeley, Published by Disabled People’s Association, Singapore).

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