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Inclusive language guidelines for support workers

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, but respect peoples preferences

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 eg, “person with disability” or “person with cerebral palsy”.

Some people prefer identity-first language to describe themselves eg, “autistic”, “Deaf” or “disabled”.

If you’re unsure, politely ask or listen to how they describe themselves and their disability. Using someone’s preferred language shows that you respect them.

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.

Please refer to the guide below, but remember there is no one-size-fits-all for everyone. Some people will prefer identity-first language. Using a person’s preferred language shows you listen and are respectful.

UseDon’t use

Person with disability
People with disability 

Disabled, the disabled

Person with a physical disability 

Handicapped, physically challenged

Person with an intellectual disability
Person with a learning disability

Mentally handicapped
Retarded, slow

Person with a psychosocial disability
Person with a mental illness
Person living with a mental health issue

Disturbed, crazy, mad, mental
Mentally ill

Person living with schizophrenia


Person with autism


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


Seniors, mature aged people

Old, the elderly, geriatrics

Person with dementia
Person living with dementia

Dementia sufferer

People without disability

Normal, able-bodied, non-disabled

Accessible parking, accessible toiletDisabled parking, disabled toilet