The words we use to describe people can unintentionally insult, stereotype and depersonalise which can lead to discrimination. Inclusive language does the opposite, by intentionally celebrating diversity and promoting respect and equality.
These guidelines will help you to think about and challenge some common ways of talking about disability. Your use of inclusive language shows your respect for the people you support as well as helping to change negative and limiting attitudes.
Use person-first language
When talking about a person’s disability, focus on the person first, so you’re describing an individual person and not defining them by their disability with words that often carry negative assumptions.
Avoid euphemisms or made up words
Avoid using euphemisms or newly created terms to describe people with disability like ‘differently abled’, ‘people of all abilities’, ‘disAbility’, ‘diffAbled’, and ‘special needs’. Whilst their usage has been intended positively, many consider it to be patronising.
Everyday achievements aren’t ‘inspirational’
Describing a person with disability as ‘inspirational’ or ‘brave’ for everyday achievements like having a job, hobby or partner, implies that they shouldn’t be capable of these things and is patronising. Similarly, words that apply negative assumptions and limitations, eg, ‘severely disabled’, ‘suffering from,’ or ‘confined to a wheelchair’ can be offensive to people with disability who don’t see themselves as victims or as different from anyone else.
Shift the focus to accessibility
Language focus has shifted away from disability to accessibility, highlighting that it’s a lack of accessibility and not a person’s disability that may be an issue for them. People now refer to Accessibility Action Plans or Access and Inclusion Plans, rather than Disability Action Plans. Car parks, lifts and toilets are now described as accessible, rather than disabled or handicapped.
|Person with disability, people with disability||Disabled, the disabled|
|Person with a physical disability||Handicapped, physically challenged|
|Person with an intellectual disabilityPerson with a learning disability||Mentally handicapped|
|Person with a psychosocial disability|
Person with a mental illness
Person living with a mental health issue
|Disturbed, crazy, mad, mental|
|Person living with schizophrenia||Schizophrenic|
|Person with autism||Autistic|
|Person with Down syndrome||Suffering from Down syndrome|
|Person with high or low support needs||Severely or mildly disabled|
|Person who uses a wheelchair|
[Name] is a wheelchair user
|Wheelchair bound, confined to a wheelchair|
|Person with cerebral palsy||Spastic|
|Seniors, mature aged people||Old, the elderly, geriatrics|
|Person with dementia|
Person living with dementia
|People without disability||Normal, able-bodied, non-disabled|
|Accessible parking, accessible toilet||Disabled parking, disabled toilet|