Acceptable Terms

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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 and Unacceptable Terminology

Table contents

The first column is a list of acceptable terms. The second column lists the unacceptable version.

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.

Different Views

There are different views about discriminatory terminology in many countries. See the list of Disability Etiquette resources.

Last modified: 28 November 2022
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