Copyright @ Linda Crabtree. All rights reserved.



Linda here: The item below is taken directly from the publication Word Choices: A lexicon of preferred terms for disability issues published by the Ministry of Citizenship in 1993 with one or two small additions by me. Its message is just as good today as it was then and it can help you write more effectively about people with disabilities and disease. I know writing "people with disabilities" instead of "the disabled" takes a tiny bit longer but it puts people first and that's the name of the game. If you think people first, you can't go wrong.

"As media professionals, you influence and reinforce the public's perception of people with disabilities. The words you use and images you present can create either a positive view of people with disabilities or an indifferent, negative depiction.

This lexicon of words and phrases will help you choose language that is neither demeaning nor hurtful. it was developed by the Ontario Office for Disability Issues and representatives from consumer and other organizations working with persons with disabilities.

Comments were sought from more than 100 organizations in Ontario. Although opinions may differ on some terms, the lexicon presents the consensus among those who were consulted. 

Four words to be avoided that make people with disabilities cringe when read: Afflicted, Suffer or sufferer, Victim 

Instead of: autistics or "the autistics" please us person with autism or has autism

Instead of birth defect please use congenital disability, blind from birth, deaf from birth

Instead of blind ... A person with no vision or with almost no vision is blind. People with some sight are partially sighted, visually impaired or have low vision, not partially blind. 

Instead of brain-damaged please use brain-injured

Instead of confined to a wheelchair, wheelchair bound please use person who uses a wheelchair (A wheelchair provides mobility for persons who cannot walk. It is not confining.) 

Instead of crazy, insane please use mentally ill 

Instead of crippled please use disabled or be more specific, walks with crutches or leg braces or uses a mobility aid. 

Instead of deaf and dumb or deaf mute please use deaf (person with profound hearing loss who communicates by sign language) deafened (deaf late in life) culturally deaf (exposed to sigh language since birth or early in life)

Instead of epileptic please use person with epilepsy 

Instead of fits or spells please use seizures 

Instead of handicap please use person with a disability or rather than he's handicapped - use he has a disability. Instead of hearing impaired please use hard of hearing (person with any degree of hearing loss who communicates primarily by speech)

Instead of lupus sufferer please use person with lupus

Instead of mongolism please use Down's syndrome

Instead of MS person please use person who has multiple sclerosis 

Instead of normal ...Normal is not to be used as opposite to disabled. Say disabled and nondisabled and able-bodied, or use more specific terms such as sighted, ambulatory.

Patient only please in a medical context or referring to a relationship with a medical practitioner please use, people with disabilities or whatever they have. A person with a disability is not automatically a patient.

Instead of physically challenged please use physically disabled 

Instead of mentally retarded please use persons with developmental disabilities, developmentally disabled

Instead of stutterer please use person with a speech impairment 

Instead of The disabled please use persons with disabilities. Disabled people do not want to be categorized as "the disabled".

Instead of The blind please use persons who are blind

Instead of The deaf please use persons who are deaf 

Instead of The deaf-blind please use deaf-blind persons (people who have varying combinations of visual and auditory impairments).