Business Resources and Services from Disability Awareness Author / Speaker Gary Karp

Disability Language

Words Matter, But the Rules Are Simple

Don't worry too much about language. A wheelchair user will not break down into tears if you utter the word "walk," nor will a blind person at use of "look" or "see." These are commonly used words, and it's much more important to them that you relax.

Dictionary Page: "Diversity" is HighlightedThat said, people with disabilities are sensitive to language that implies the negative: that they are "not able" or that they are damaged goods.

So the rules are pretty simple: stick to language that is positive and implies active, whole people.

The most reliable approach: "People-First" language. People with disabilities. A person with vision loss. A person with Down Syndrome. A Little Person.

Or use positive, active language. I am a "wheelchair user." I am not "confined" to my wheelchair, nor am I "wheelchair bound." In fact, from my point of view, I'm liberated by it.

Here is a list of terms to avoid. You'll see that they fit the model of implying the negative.

Left (paralyzed, blind, etc.)












  • Use "People-First" language, such as "person with diabetes."A Little More
  • Use language that is positive and implies activity.A Little More
  • You don't need to use politically correct language.A Little More
  • You might hear terms like "crip" or "gimp" used.A Little More
  • Don't worry about using vernacular language.A Little More
  • Good management requires understanding the actual, current circumstances that surround a business, and being informed of the resources available for that organization to achieve its goals. Managing change is a priority, and disability has changed radically.

    It's time to get up to speed.


    A person with paralysis will not be upset to hear the words "walk" or "run," and a person who is blind is totally OK with "see" or "look." Just relax.
    These are words that some people with disabilities subscribe to, but they are pretty much for internal use only!
    Although many are fine with it, some feel that language such as "specially abled" or "mobility challenged" are patronizing. The attempt only amplifies the fact that people are uptight.
    The best example: not "wheelchair bound," but "wheelchair user." See the difference?
    You'll never upset anyone with people first language, even though it can sometimes be a bit labored. Remember this one, and you've got most of the language issue licked.