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

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.

UseDon’t use
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 disabilityMentally 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 schizophreniaSchizophrenic
Person with autismAutistic
Person with Down syndromeSuffering from Down syndrome
Person with high or low support needsSeverely or mildly disabled
Person who uses a wheelchair
[Name] is a wheelchair user
Wheelchair bound, confined to a wheelchair
Person with cerebral palsySpastic
Seniors, mature aged peopleOld, the elderly, geriatrics
Person with dementia
Person living with dementia
Dementia sufferer
People without disabilityNormal, able-bodied, non-disabled
Accessible parking, accessible toiletDisabled parking, disabled toilet 
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