Guidelines For Discussing People With Disabilities


Over the last decade, the way in which we refer to people with disabilities has changed. Many words and phrases that were traditionally used are now considered offensive to people with disabilities. The Pineda Foundation encourages partners to use proper terminology or “people-first language.”
Here are some tips for how to refer to disability in statements, programs, or publications, adapted from the Research and Training Center on Independent Living at University of KansasGuidelines for Reporting and Writing About People With Disabilities.

Put People First, Not Their Disability 

  • Use phrases such as woman with a spinal cord injury, a child who has a physical disability, or person with a disability. This puts the focus on the individual, not the condition or cause of their disability.
  • Don't label people as a disability. For example, don't use the phrase Maria is a quad. Write, Maria is a young woman with quadriplegia.
  • Don't refer to groups as a disability. Use people with cystic fibrosis or people who have cancer.
  • Use the word accessible to refer to accommodations for people who have a disability. For example, replace disabled or handicapped parking space or playground with accessible parking space or play-ground.

Avoid Negative Labeling and Condescending Euphemisms

  • Saying afflicted with, crippled with, victim of or suffers from devalues individuals with disabilities by portraying them as helpless objects of pity and charity. These types of words or phrases should not be used in grant applications.
  • Don't use emotional descriptors such as unfortunate or pitiful. Use phrases such as individual with AIDS instead of a person who suffers from AIDS.
  • Don't use euphemisms to describe disabilities. Terms such as handicapable, differently-abled, special, and challenged reinforce the idea that people cannot deal honestly with their disabilities.

Don't Imply Disease When Discussing Disabilities 
Don't refer to individuals with disabilities as patients or cases unless their relationship with their doc-tor is under discussion, or if they are referenced in the context of a hospital or clinical setting.

Emphasize Abilities, Not Limitations 
For example, say our clients use a wheelchair instead of are confined to wheelchairs or wheelchair-bound.

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