Accessibility Tip of the Week

Should I use the word "disability"?

  • Summary: Use the word "disability" and the person-first or identity-first language preferred by the individual and community being described. Avoid biased language.
  • Who it helps: This helps your audience more accurately perceive individuals with disabilities and honors the preferences of those individuals.
  • Additional benefits: Communicates your organization's respect for the disability community as a whole.

Should you use the word “disability?” The short answer is yes. The disability community prefers this term. Other terms can seem fake or patronizing.

Within the disability community, some groups prefer person-first language and some prefer identity-first language. Person-first language ends with the disability. Examples include:

  • Person with low vision,
  • Individual with intellectual disabilities, or
  • People with a history of substance abuse.

Identify-first language starts with the disability. Examples include:

  • Deaf person,
  • Autistic individual, or
  • Blind community.

Some communities, like the Deaf community, strongly prefer identify-first language and also prefer the word Deaf to be capitalized. Other communities are divided about whether to use person or identity-first language. Whenever you are describing an individual or small group, ask their preference.

Finally, avoid language that implies the person is a victim or burden. For example:

  • Use “wheelchair user” instead of “wheelchair-bound” or “confined to a wheelchair”.
  • Use “individual with AIDS” instead of “AIDS victim”.
  • Use “person with epilepsy” instead of “person who suffers from epilepsy”.

What can I do?

Follow these guidelines:

  1. Use the word “disability” instead of phrases like “differently-abled” or “special abilities.”
  2. If you are describing an individual, ask their preference.
  3. Use the person-first or identify-first language preferred by the community and individual being described. Check the APA style guide , UN Disability-Inclusive Language Guidelines or other resource to determine the preference if you do not know.
  4. Avoid language that implies the person is a victim or burden.
  5. Reexamine your ideas about disability and disabled individuals.

Next week’s tip will challenge preconceptions about people with disabilities.

This work is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0    .

If you are promoting accessibility within your organization or community, sending out easy-to-understand tips can be a helpful addition to your strategy. You are welcome to share the tips here under the mentioned Creative Commons license, as long as you cite Accessible Community as your source.