How to refer to disability

Over the last decade, the way in which we refer to people with disabilities has changed. Many words and phrases that were traditionally used are now considered offensive to people with disabilities.

Applications to the Quality of Life Grants Program should use "disability-friendly" or "people-first language."

Here are some tips for how to refer to disability in your application:

Adapted from the Research and Training Center on Independent Living at University of Kansas Guidelines: How to Write and Report About People with Disabilities

Put people first, not their disability

  • Use phrases such as woman with a spinal cord injury, a child who has a physical disability, or person with a disability. This puts the focus on the individual, not the condition or cause of their disability.
  • Don't label people as a disability. For example, don't use the phrase Maria is a quad. Write Maria is a young woman with quadriplegia.
  • Don't refer to groups as a disability. Use people with cystic fibrosis or people who have cancer.
  • Use the word accessible to refer to accommodations for people who have a disability. For example, replace disabled or handicapped parking space or playground with accessible parking space or playground.

Avoid negative labeling and condescending euphemisms

  • Saying afflicted with, crippled with, victim of or suffers from devalues individuals with disabilities by portraying them as helpless objects of pity and charity. These types of words or phrases should not be used in grant applications.
  • Don't use emotional descriptors such as unfortunate or pitiful. Use phrases such as individual with AIDS instead of a person who suffers from AIDS.
  • Don't use euphemisms to describe disabilities. Terms such as handicapable, differently-abled, special, and challenged reinforce the idea that people cannot deal honestly with their disabilities.

Don't imply disease when discussing disabilities

Don't refer to individuals with disabilities as patients or cases unless their relationship with their doctor is under discussion, or if they are referenced in the context of a hospital or clinical setting.

Emphasize abilities, not limitations

For example, say our clients use a wheelchair instead of are confined to wheelchairs or wheelchair-bound.

Source

Access the full document from which this was adapted: Guidelines: How to Write and Report About People with Disabilities.

Other valuable resources regarding disability are also available on the Research and Training Center on Independent Living at the University of Kansas website. (See "Bestsellers" or "Media".)

This project was supported, in part by grant number 90PR3002, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.