ABILITY AwarenessMark Goffeney, born with no arms, hammers on an ABILITY HouseVolunteer who is blind uses power drill on ABILITY HouseVolunteer with Intellectual Disabilities with Actress Hope AllenVolunteer who uses a wheelchair working on Honolulu ABILITY House
Building a World of Inclusion for People with Health Conditions and Disabilities


Guidelines to Terminology


Helpful guidelines to disability-related terminology

Put the person before the disability. For example, use “people with disabilities” as opposed to “disabled people” or “the disabled.”

Do not use phrases such as “confined to a wheelchair,” “wheelchair-bound,” “wheelchair user,” “crippled,” “afflicted,” “victim of” or “suffers from a disorder.” These references diminish the individual's dignity and magnify the disability. Instead, refer matter-of-factly to “the person who uses a wheelchair” or “the person with an emotional disorder.”

Avoid using trendy euphemisms to describe people with disabilities. Expressions such as “physically challenged,” “special” and “handi capable” generally are regarded by the disability community as patronizing and inaccurate. Stick with simple language, such as “people with disabilities” or “the person who is deaf.”

Use the terms “typical person,” “average person” or “person without a disability” instead of “normal person” when referring to people who do not have disabilities.

“Impairment” is used to characterize a physical, mental or physiological loss, abnormality or injury that causes a limitation in one or more major life functions. For example, “The loss of her right arm was only a slight impairment to her ability to drive.” Do not use “impaired” to describe the person. He is not “hearing impaired,” he is “deaf or hard of hearing.”

“Disability”–The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such impairment, or being regarding as having such impairment. For example, it is correct to say, “Despite his disability, he still was able to maintain employment.”

“Handicap” describes a barrier or problem created by society or the environment, not a person's disability. For example, “The teacher's negative attitude was a handicap to her.” Or, “The stairs leading to the stage were a handicap to him.” Remnants of the term's old use may still be seen in contexts such as “handicapped parking” signs, but these are gradually being updated.

“Deaf” refers to profound hearing loss. “Hard of hearing” may be used to describe any degree of hearing loss, from slight to moderate.

“Blind” most frequently is used to describe a severe vision loss. Either “person who is blind” or “person with low vision” are acceptable.

“Developmental disability” is any severe mental and/or physical disorder that begins before age 22 and continues indefinitely. Individuals with intellectual disabilities, autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy and other similar long-term disabilities may be considered to have developmental disabilities. The term “intellectual disability” is preferred over “mental retardation.”

“Mental illness” is a term describing many forms of illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression and emotional disorders. Use “person with a mental disability” rather than referring to an individual as “deranged” or “deviant.” Clinical terms such as “neurotic” and “psychotic” should be used only for clinical writing. Other terms such as “demented,” “insane,” “abnormal,” “deranged” and “mad” often are used incorrectly and should be avoided.

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