Disability – Appropriate wordings & terminologies

Using acceptable terminology to talk about disability is not merely about being ‘politically correct’ – it is about removing barriers, changing assumptions and creating an inclusive environment that welcomes all. Above all we are engaging into positive reinforcement and developing and environment where every person feels at ease and composed.

General Inclusive Terminology

Some tips on behaviour

  • use a normal tone of voice, don’t patronise or talk down
  • don’t be too precious or too politically correct – being super-sensitive to the right and wrong language and depictions will stop you doing anything
  • never attempt to speak or finish a sentence for the person you are talking to
  • address Persons with Disabilities in the same way as you talk to everyone else
  • speak directly to a disabled person, even if they have an interpreter or companion with them

Acceptable: people with disabilities

Unacceptable: the disabled, the handicapped

In regards to accessible facilities:

Acceptable: accessible toilets/parking, parking for blue or orange badge holders

Unacceptable: disability-friendly, disabled toilets/parking

Individuals & Their Disabilities

Acceptable: has ‘x’/has a diagnosis of ‘x’ (name of the condition, e.g. autism, depression, epilepsy)

Unacceptable: illness, suffers from, handicapped, invalid


When talking about autism:

Acceptable: person with autism, person on the autism spectrum

Unacceptable: people living with autism, an autistic

When talking about Asperger’s syndrome:

Acceptable: it is a form of autism

Unacceptable: it is not a rare or mild form of autism


When discussing mobility:

Acceptable: wheelchair user, walks with a mobility aid

Unacceptable: mobility problems, wheelchair-bound

Saying someone is wheelchair-bound implies they are restrained or restricted, so the preferred term for most is ‘wheelchair user’. For many, this term more accurately represents the experience and doesn’t perpetuate stereotypes.

Many people may avoid engaging with the topic of disability and the correct terminology for fear of saying the wrong thing. However, learning about acceptable terms can go a long way to make people feel more included and accepted by society.

Author Soovan Sharma DOOKHOO

**The above was drafted from personal experience and different sources related to disability matters.

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