The term disability has, in general, replaced the term handicap when referring to people with disabilities. Although handicap can be used when citing laws and situations, it should not be used to describe a person or disability.
Always put people first, not their disability. This places the focus on the individual, not the disability. Emphasize abilities, not limitations. Avoid emotional descriptors such as unfortunate, pitiful, or victim.
Avoid euphemistic terms such as handicapable, mentally different, physically inconvenienced, and physically/mentally challenged as they are considered condescending and reinforce the idea that disabilities cannot be dealt with up front.
Examples of Disabilities and Appropriate Terminology
A good rule of thumb when referring or speaking to persons with disabilities is to use the term person with and avoid focusing on the disability unless it is crucial to making a point.
- ADHD: person with ADHD (not hyperactive)
- Autism: person with autism (not autistic)
- Blind: person who is blind, visually impaired, or has low vision
- Brain injury: person with a brain injury (not brain injured)
- Cleft lip: person with a congenital disability (not birth defect or deformity)
- Deaf: person who is deaf, hard of hearing, or has a hearing loss
- Disfigurement: burn survivor, person with burns (not burn victim)
- Down Syndrome: person with Down syndrome (not Mongoloid or Downs child)
- Intellectual Disability: person with an intellectual disability (not mentally retarded)
- Seizure: person with epilepsy or with a seizure disorder (not epileptic)
- Small/short stature: person of small (short) stature or little people (not dwarf or midget)
- Speech disorder: person without speech (not mute or dumb)
- Spinal cord injury: person with paraplegia, person who is paralyzed, or person with a spinal cord injury (not paraplegic or quadriplegic)
- Stroke: stroke survivor or person who has had a stroke (not stroke victim)
- Substance dependence: people who are substance dependent (not addict or alcoholic)