What if I told you that there is right and wrong language to use when talking about disability? Our disability language, that is, the way we describe or talk about disability is informed by the prevalent ideas about disability in our society. In some societies, disability is regarded as a curse or bad omen and persons living with disability are objects of pity thus leading to demeaning ways of talking about disability.

What is Disability Language?

Disability Language are the different ways disability is understood and/or described, for example, in terms of words used for persons with disabilities, words that describes or identifies their disabilities or words used to describe their role in the family or community. The different ways of understanding and describing disability can promote either a positive or negative attitude to disability.

According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disability (CRPD), disability is an evolving concept and it results from the interaction between persons with impairment, environmental and attitudinal barriers which hinders their complete, effective and efficient participation in the society on an equal basis with others. This means that societies play in crucial role in determining how much people living with disability can participate in society. The goal of right disability language is to ensure every human being is treated with the dignity that they deserve as humans regardless of their differences.

Disability Language simply put, answers the question of, how do I address people with disabilities? In other to ensure that we use the right language when addressing people with disabilities, it is important to know the difference between right and wrong Disability Language.  Right or positive disability language promotes respect and empowers people with disabilities, as it places the emphasis on the individual, as opposed to defining that person by their disability.

Right vs Wrong Disability Languages (According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, 2006)

Affirmative Phrases Negative Phrases
Person with an intellectual, cognitive,
developmental disability
Retarded; mentally defective
Person who is blind, person who is visually
impaired
The blind
Person with a disability The disabled; handicapped
Person who is deaf The deaf; deaf and dumb
Person who is hard of hearing Suffers a hearing loss
Person who has multiple sclerosis Afflicted by MS
Person with cerebral palsy CP victim
Person with epilepsy, person with
seizure disorder
Epileptic
Person who uses a wheelchair Confined or restricted to a wheelchair
Person who has muscular dystrophy Stricken by MD
Person with a physical disability, physically
disabled
Crippled; lame; deformed
Unable to speak, uses synthetic speech Dumb; mute
Person with psychiatric disability Crazy; nuts
Person who is successful, productive Person who has overcome his/her disability; is
courageous (when it implies the person has
courage because of having a disability)