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Words to avoid when talking about disabled people

When talking about an individual, ask them “How do you refer to your disability or impairment?“.

When talking about a broad group use ‘disabled people’ or ‘people with disabilities’.

When identifying a disabled person

There is no right way for people to identify with their disability or impairment, however some terms are insensitive or offensive.

Dont say Try instead Why?
Able-bodied Non-disabled Implies disabled people are only limited by their bodies and not society
Aspergers Autistic person Aspergers has controversial roots and creates a hierarchy of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ autistic people.
Cripple / Crippled Motor impaired person or more specific It has become a slur
Differently-abled Disabled person It’s okay to say disabled
Midget Dwarf, Little person, Person of short stature It has become a slur
Retarded Intellectually disabled person or person with a learning disability It has become a slur
Spaz / Spastic Person with cerebral palsy or more specific It has become a slur
Special needs Disabled person or more specific — Use ‘access needs’ when talking about reasonable adjustments Disabled people’s needs are human needs not special needs
The disabled Disabled people or people with disabilities Makes disabled people feel like they’re outside a conversation about them
Wheelchair / Wheelchair bound Wheelchair user People are not wheelchairs, they use wheelchairs

In everyday language

Not all disabled people find these words offensive, it is okay to make mistakes, focus on speaking with more intention and improving over time.

Avoid words that reference disabled people when it is unrelated to your point.

Instead of saying Try instead Why?
Insane, Mad, Mental Wild, Shocking, Intense Mental illness is not a moral failing and you can be mentally ill and not a bad person
Stupid, Idiot, Dumb Nonsense, Ignorant Insults around intelligence are often used when we could argue against a specific point.
Lame Boring, Sad Avoid conflating motor impairments with something bad.
“I’m so OCD” I’m fixated on [thing], I’m particular about [thing] OCD is a serious mental health condition and should not be trivialised.

Disabled community reclaiming words

Some disabled people may use these words to describe themselves.

For example, ‘Crip’ is used amongst many disabled people, similar to how ‘queer’ has been reclaimed by the LGBT+ community.

If you are not from these communities then avoid them even if they’re used by the person themselves.

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