19.3.1  Appropriate and inappropriate terms

In your daily work it is important to keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • When describing a person, focus on their abilities and actions rather than their limitations, and avoids words that imply that they are passive ‘objects’ rather than active subjects. Expressions like ‘she uses a wheelchair’ or ‘he is partially sighted’ are preferred to terms such as ‘confined to a wheelchair’ or ‘partially blind’.
  • Avoid ‘sensationalising’ an impairment by using expressions such as ‘afflicted with’, ‘victim of’, ‘suffering from’, and so on (see also Table 19.1).
  • Emphasise the individual, rather than the impairment, by saying, for example, ‘a person with paraplegia’, instead of ‘a paraplegic’ or ‘a paraplegic person’. For the same reason, avoid grouping individuals into generic categories through expressions like the deaf, the blind, etc.
  • When talking about places or buildings designed to overcome the barriers faced by people with disabilities, use the term ‘accessible’ (e.g. ‘an accessible parking space’) rather than ‘parking for the disabled’ or ‘for the handicapped’.
  • Finally, people without disabilities should not be referred to as ‘normal’, ‘healthy’ or ‘able-bodied’. People with disabilities are not – as such expressions suggest – ‘abnormal’, ‘sick’ or ‘unable’.

It is appropriate for you to continue using words such as ‘see’, ‘look’, ‘walk’, ‘listen’, when talking to people with various disabilities, even if the person is, for example, partially sighted or uses a wheelchair or hearing aid.

Table 19.1  Appropriate and inappropriate terms when discussing disability.
Inappropriate useAppropriate use

The disabled, the handicapped

People with disabilities

Cripple, physically handicapped or wheelchair bound.

A person with a physical disability/impairment or wheelchair user


A person with cerebral palsy

Deaf and dumb

A person with hearing and speech impairments

The blind

People who are blind, or partially sighted, or visually impaired people

The deaf

People who are deaf, or hearing-impaired people

19.3  Appropriate and acceptable language

19.3.2  Communication with people who have impairments