Tips for Mindful Language When Interacting with People with Disabilities

Tips for Mindful Language When Interacting with People with Disabilities

When communicating with or discussing people with disabilities, it is essential to be mindful of the language we use. Here are some specific tips to help you communicate more respectfully: 

  1. Ask for Preferences: When in doubt about which term to use, it’s best to ask the individual about their preferred language. People with disabilities are experts on their experiences and can guide us on respectful language. 
  1. Avoid Outdated or Offensive Terms: Certain terms, like “crippled,” are no longer appropriate and should be avoided. 
  1. Consider the Context: In professional settings, using more formal language when discussing disabilities is often appropriate. 
  1. Be Aware of Impact: Even unintentionally offensive words can hurt someone’s feelings. Be mindful of the impact your language may have. 


Respectful Language Examples: 

  1. Instead of saying “he’s blind,” say “he has a visual impairment.” This phrasing focuses on the person first and then mentions their specific disability, acknowledging them as an individual first and foremost. 
  1. Instead of saying “she’s in a wheelchair,” say “she uses a wheelchair.” This phrasing emphasizes the use of the wheelchair as a tool rather than defining the person solely by their disability. 
  1. Instead of saying “they’re mentally challenged,” say “they have a mental health condition.” This more neutral language avoids stigmatizing terms and recognizes the person beyond their disability. 


Additional Tips: 

  1. Person-First vs. Identity-First Language: Use the language preferred by the individual. Some may prefer “a person with autism,” while others might choose “an autistic person.” 
  1. Avoid Underestimating Capabilities: Refrain from phrases like “doing well for someone with a disability.” People with disabilities are as capable as anyone else. 
  1. Avoid Patronizing or Infantilizing Language: Treat individuals with disabilities with the same respect and dignity as you would anyone else. 
  1. Avoid Sexually Suggestive Language: Exploitative language about people with disabilities is never appropriate. 


Always remember that individuals with disabilities are just like everyone else, with their unique experiences, talents, and challenges. They deserve to be treated with respect, dignity, and empathy. By using inclusive and respectful language, we can contribute to a more understanding and compassionate society. However, it is essential to recognize that language preferences may vary among individuals. The best way to ensure we use respectful language is to actively listen to people with disabilities and ask them about their preferences. This fosters open communication and reinforces the principles of inclusivity and equality for all.