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Communicating With and About People with Disabilities

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About 50 million Americans report having a disability. Most Americans will experience a disability some time during the course of their lives. Disabilities can affect people in different ways, even when one person has the same type of disability as another person. Some disabilities may be hidden or not easy to see.

People First Language

People first language is used to speak appropriately and respectfully about an individual with a disability. People first language emphasizes the person first not the disability. For example, when referring to a person with a disability, refer to the person first by using phrases such as: “a person who …”, “a person with …” or, “person who has…”

Here are suggestions on how to communicate with and about people with disabilities.

People First Language

  • Person with a disability
  • Person without a disability
  • Person with an intellectual, cognitive, developmental disability
  • Person with an emotional or behavioral
    disability, person with a mental health or a psychiatric disability
  • Person who is hard of hearing
  • Person who is deaf
  • Person who is blind/visually impaired
  • Person who has a communication disorder, is unable to speak, or uses a device to speak
  • Person who uses a wheelchair
  • Person with a physical disability
  • Person with epilepsy or seizure disorder
  • Person with multiple sclerosis
  • Person with cerebral palsy
  • Accessible parking or bathrooms
  • Person of short stature
  • Person with Down syndrome
  • Person who is successful, productive

Language to Avoid

  • The disabled, handicapped
  • Normal person, healthy person
  • Retarded, slow, simple, moronic, defective or retarded, afflicted, special person
  • Insane, crazy, psycho, maniac, nuts
  • Hearing impaired, suffers a hearing loss
  • Deaf and dumb, mute
  • The blind
  • Mute, dumb
  • Confined or restricted to a wheelchair, wheelchair bound
  • Crippled, lame, deformed, invalid, spastic
  • Epileptic
  • Afflicted by MS
  • CP victim
  • Handicapped parking or bathroom
  • Midget
  • Mongoloid
  • Has overcome his/her disability, is courageous

For more information about disability and health, visit For More Information

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This resource created by CDC