Primarily, people with disabilities are not a condition, disease, or diagnosis; they are individual human beings. There are two ways that people can describe themselves or others and their disabilities. The use of person-first language refers to the individual first, then their disability. An example of person-first language would be to refer to the individual as “the person with a disability” rather than the “disabled person”. Other individuals may wish to express pride in their disability and identify within a disability group or culture using identity-first language. While both forms of language are responses to deficit-based views of disability, the person-first approach can be representative of reclaiming one’s humanity and identity-first language prioritises the disability in their personal description. Both approaches are equally appropriate and valid and depend on personal preference. When in doubt, ask the person which they prefer. Take the person’s lead and prioritise interactions and communication that respects the individual’s ability and choice to self-identify and promote their personal human dignity.

Language is important when communicating with and about people with disabilities. The words and phrases we use, and the references we make to and about people with disabilities, can be affirming or harmful. Harmful phrases may label a person or convey images of defect or deformity, victimisation and being “less than.”. These terms are offensive, dehumanising, degrading, and stigmatising and can be damaging to the individual and a just society.

People with disabilities generally do not value or benefit from being portrayed as excessively courageous, brave, or special. These terms can imply that it is exceptional for people with disabilities to have skills and talents. Comparisons may be used when speaking about people with or without a disability. A person without a disability can be said to be exactly that; avoid using the term “normal.” A better choice, if a comparison between people is necessary, would be to use a term such as “non-disabled person”. While some disabled people do use the term “able-bodied person”, many critics have argued that the term implies that all people with disabilities lack able bodies, and have recommended that the term not be used.

Further reading on inclusive language:

Guide: PDF Version