What language should I use to talk about people with disabilities?

Date Updated
4/29/19

Refer to a person's disability only if it is relevant to the conversation. Avoid negative descriptions of a person's disability. For example, "a person who uses a wheelchair" is more appropriate than "a person confined to a wheelchair," which is both inaccurate and negative in tone; people who use wheelchairs are not “confined” to them, they are empowered by them with the gift of mobility.

Many people with disabilities prefer language that mentions the person first and then the disability. They consider, for example "A man who is blind" preferable to "a blind man.”

The Disability Language Style Guide from the National Center on Journalism and Disability (NCJD) at Arizona State University can provide more detailed guidance. The guide covers general terms and words related to specific disabilities. Entries include a definition of the term, background about its use or origin, any guidance on the term that is in The Associated Press Stylebook, and a recommendation from the NCJD, which “strives for accuracy and aims to strike a balance between clarity and sensitivity.”

Find more information about communication with and about individuals with disabilities in What are some hints for communicating with individuals who have disabilities?