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The following table provides guidelines for writing and reporting about disabilities and for describing people with disabilities. Use this as a glossary for acceptable terminology to avoid using discriminatory language.
Note: These definitions are used with permission of the City of San Antonio Disability Access Office.
|Acceptable Terms||Unacceptable Terms|
|Able-bodied; able to walk, see, hear, and so forth; people who are not disabled.||Healthy, when used to contrast with "disabled." Healthy implies that the person with a disability is unhealthy. Many people with disabilities have excellent health.|
|People who do not have a disability.||Normal. When used as the opposite of disabled, this implies that the person is abnormal. No one wants to be labeled as abnormal.|
|A person who has (name of disability).
Example: A person who has multiple sclerosis.
|Afflicted with, suffers from. Most people with disabilities do not regard themselves as afflicted or suffering continually.
Afflicted: a disability is not an affliction.
|Disabled person; person with a disability.||Cripple, cripples—the image conveyed is of a twisted, deformed, useless body.|
|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.||Handicap, handicapped person or handicapped.|
|People with cerebral palsy, people with spinal cord injuries.||Cerebral palsied, spinal cord injured, and so forth. Never identify people solely by their disability.|
|Person who had a spinal cord injury, polio, a stroke, and so forth or a person who has multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, arthritis, and so forth.||Victim. People with disabilities do not like to be perceived as victims for the rest of their lives, long after any victimization has occurred.|
|Has a disability; has a condition of (name of disability), or born without legs, and so forth.||Defective, defect, deformed, vegetable. These words are offensive, dehumanizing, degrading, and stigmatizing.|
|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 communicates through speaking and speech-reading, and who usually has listening and hearing abilities adequate for ordinary telephone communication. Many hard of hearing individuals use a hearing aid.
|Deaf and Dumb is as bad as it sounds. The inability to hear or speak does not indicate intelligence.|
|Person who has a mental or developmental disability.||Retarded, moron, imbecile, idiot. These are offensive to people who bear the label.|
|Use a wheelchair or crutches; a wheelchair user; walks with crutches.||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.|
There are different views about discriminatory terminology in many countries. See the list of Disability Etiquette resources.