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The Language of Disabilities

 As greater numbers of individuals take advantage of the opportunities open to them in education, it becomes increasingly important to promote an environment that is positive for persons with disabilities. One of the best and easiest ways is appropriate language use.

The recommended manner is known as “persons first” language. This means that the person is emphasized first, the disability second. For example:

Do say...
  • person with a disability
  • individual with a speech impairment
  • woman who is blind or visually impaired
  • student who is deaf or hard of hearing
  • man with paraplegia
  • woman who is paralyzed
  • individual with epilepsy
  • student who has a learning disability
  • person with a mental disability
  • man with a cognitive impairment
  • congenital disability
Don’t say...
  • disabled or handicapped woman
  • mute, dumb
  • blind student or “the blind”
  • deaf individual or “the deaf”
  • paraplegic, quadriplegic
  • confined to a wheelchair
  • epileptic
  • learning disabled person
There is also a special sensitivity to the use of the word “normal” when comparing others to those with disabilities. In general, people with disabilities do no wish to be pitied, feared, or ignored, yet nor do they wish to be viewed as somehow more heroic, courageous, patient, or “special” than others.