Respectful Language


Respectful Language

Hospitality toward people with disabilities includes learning to use language that communicates respect. Many who live with disabilities appreciate and feel respected when others use “person-first” language. Such language puts the emphasis on the person rather than the disability; for example, "people with disabilities," rather than "the disabled," or "the handicapped."

Retarded is a word that has caused much hurt. Our friends who live with intellectual or developmental disability ask us to make Respect the only R-word in our vocabulary.

The R-word hurts. Disable the label. 

The Indiana Governor's Council for People with Disabilities challenges us to think carefully about how we use words:

"Be sensitive when choosing words. The reality is that people with disabilities succeed not 'in spite of' their disabilities but 'in spite of' an inaccessible and discriminatory society. They do not 'overcome' their disabilities so much as 'overcome' prejudice. You can help by using nonjudgmental terms and phrases that portray an image of dignity and respect."

cerebral palsy/paraplegia/physical disability crippled, spastic
cognitive or intellectual impairment retard, mongoloid
communication disorder/unable to speak, deaf dumb/deaf-mute
disability handicap
psychiatric disability insane, crazy, deranged
uses a wheelchair wheelchair bound/confined to a wheelchair
has or had a disability stricken, victim, or suffering from
accessible parking/seating/restrooms handicapped parking/seating/restrooms

Source: "The Power of Words: A Guide to Interacting with People with Disabilities," Indiana Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities.​