Inclusive Language with Respect to Disability

Page Summary

  • In general, use person/people-first language when describing people with disabilities.
  • Some communities and individuals prefer identity-first language.
  • When in doubt, ask what is the individual’s/group’s preferred type of language.

Every person is first and foremost a person, regardless of the challenges they face, therefore, when describing people with disabilities or ailments try to use people/person-first language. This is a type of inclusive language that emphasizes that the person has a certain diagnosis, but is not is not labeled by that diagnosis.

Avoid This   Instead Try



Person with diabetes



A person who stutters



A person with alcoholism

“They’re bipolar”


Someone with bipolar disorder

Although this type of language is more wordy, it allows you to emphasize that the disabilities afflicting the individual/group are secondary to their personal identity; however, this may not always be the case.

Some groups of people who have established cultural identities around their disability, prefer identity-first language over person-first language.

Avoid This Instead Try

The hearing impaired

Deaf people

People with autism

Autistic people

A person who is blind

A blind person

So which language should I use?

  1. Ask the individual/group what their preferred terminology is. Different people will have different preferences.

Some more general guidance can be found below:

Avoid This   Instead Try

Language that emphasizes victimhood or suffering. e.g. “Wheelchair bound”, “Victim”, “is suffering from”.


Using more neutral terms e.g. “Wheelchair user, survivor, is being treated for.”

Nouns referring to disabilities to describe people, e.g. “the Disabled/Blind/Deaf”.


Person or identity first language, e.g. “People with disabilities, Deaf people, Blind people”.

Terms like handicapped, differently abled, crazy, crippled, special needs, and the disabled.

  People with (intellectual) disabilities.

Using the adjective “disabled” to refer to amenities. e.g. “disabled parking or toilet”.

  The adjective accessible instead e.g. “accessible toilet, accessible parking”.

Using normal to refer to people without disabilities.

  Using “person without a disability” or “non-disabled”. Otherwise it implies that people with disabilities are not “normal”.