The language used to describe people with disabilities is important as it is about fundamental respect for the integrity and dignity of people with disabilities (Al Ju’beh, 2015, p. 24).
The use of ‘people/persons with disabilities’ is known as ‘people first’ language. It is based on the need ‘to affirm and define the person first, before the impairment or disability’ (Al Ju’beh, 2015, p. 25). It is the preference in many developing countries and the language used by the UNCRPD (Al Ju’beh, 2015, p. 25).
In the UK, however, the preferred term is ‘disabled people’, as ‘people do not have disabilities, but rather impairments which become disabling, due to society not being comprehensively accessible and inclusive’ (Al Ju’beh, 2015, p. 25). This guide uses the term people with disabilities and disabled people interchangeably.
|Do Use||Don’t Use|
|Person with an impairment; person with disability, people with disabilities||The disabled, handicapped, PWD|
|Person without a disability, non-disabled person, sighted person||Normal person|
|Person with a psychosocial disability, or psychiatric impairment or person with mental illness||‘Mental’ or ‘mad’|
|Person with intellectual disabilities or persons with learning disabilities||Mental handicap or retarded|
|Person who is blind, person who has low vision; partially sighted person||The blind; the visually impaired|
|Person who is deaf, person who is hard of hearing; a deaf person||Suffers from hearing loss, the deaf, deaf and dumb, deaf-mute|
|Person who uses a wheelchair, wheelchair-user||Confined or restricted to a wheelchair, wheelchair bound|
|Person with a physical disability||Invalid; handicapped person; cripple, crippled, lame|
|Unable to speak, uses synthetic speech||Dumb, mute|
|Accessible toilet/parking for persons with disabilities||Disabled toilet/handicapped parking|
Source: adapted from Al Ju’beh, 2015, pp. 28-29.
- Al Ju’beh, K. (2015). Disability inclusive development toolkit. Bensheim: CBM. See document online
- Mitra, S., & Sambamoorthi, U. (2014). Disability prevalence among adults: Estimates for 54 countries and progress toward a global estimate. Disability and Rehabilitation, 36(11), 940-947. See document online
- Rimmerman, A. (2013). Social inclusion of people with disabilities: National and international perspectives. Cambridge University Press.
- WHO & the World Bank. (2011). World report on disability. Geneva: WHO. See document online