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People First Language

Every person is made up of many characteristics - mental as well as physical and few want to be identified only by their ability to play tennis or by their love for fried onions or by the mole that's on their face. Those are just parts of us.

In speaking or writing, remember that children or adults with disabilities are like everyone else except they happen to have a disability. Therefore, here are a few tips for improving your language related to disabilities.

  • Emphasize abilities, not limitations
  • Do not label people as part of a disability group, don't say "the disabled", say "people with disabilities."
  • Don't give excessive praise or attention to a person with a disability; don't patronize them.
  • Choice and independence are important, let the person do or speak for him/herself as much as possible; if addressing an adult, say Bill instead of Billy.
  • A disability is a functional limitation that interferes with a person's ability to walk, talk, learn, etc; use handicap to describe a situation barrier imposed by society, the environment or oneself.

 

It's the "People First"

Then the Disability

 

Say: Instead of:
Child with a disability disabled or handicapped person
Person with Cerebral Palsy palsied, or C.P., or spastic
Person who is deaf of hard of hearing deaf and dumb
Person with mental retardation retarded
Person with epilepsy or person with seizure disorder epileptic
Person who had.... afflicted, suffers from, victim
Without speech, nonverbal mute, or dumb
Developmental delay slow
Emotional disorder, or mental illness crazy or insane
Uses a wheelchair confined to a wheelchair, wheelchair bound
With Down syndrome Mongoloid
Has a learning disability is learning disabled
Non-disabled normal, healthy
Has a physical disability crippled
Congenital disability birth defect
Condition disease
Seizures fits
Cleft lip hare lip
Mobility impaired lame
Medically involved, or has chronic illness sickly
Paralyzed invalid or paralytic
Of short stature dwarf or midget

 

1991, PACER Center, Inc., 4826 Chicago Ave. S., Mpls, MN 55417-1908

Last Modified: October 23, 2002

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