Some of the strongest tools we have are our words and the impressions
they leave on the listener. Positive language reflects a positive attitude.
What is your language saying? It is important to stress that the language
used to refer to or to describe people with disabilities is constantly
changing. It is not always easy to know what is in current use. However,
if our language is positive, we will always be "correct".
Acquired Brain Injury (ABI)
ABI is an acronym for acquired brain injury and/or impairment caused by an
external trauma such as a stroke. It may result in total or partial functional
limitations that adversely affect or limit a person's speech, reasoning, memory,
motor abilities, or social behavior. Acquired or traumatic brain injury is
the acceptable term for this disability.
Blind or Low Vision
Blind describes a condition in which a person has a temporary or permanent
loss of vision. Blind is still in current usage, but the term low vision is
the generic term preferred by individuals to refer to all degrees of vision
Cleft lip/palate describes a specific congenital disability involving the
upper lip and gum and/or palate. It is a condition that can be corrected surgically.
Any other terms such as "harelip" are anatomically incorrect and
stigmatizing. The term cleft lip/palate is preferred.
Deaf or Hard of Hearing
Deafness refers to a profound degree of hearing loss that prevents understanding
speech through the ear. It includes both hard of hearing and deaf in its reference.
Hard of hearing refers to a mild to moderate hearing loss that may or may not
need to be corrected with amplification. The Deaf are very proud of their culture
and choose to be called Deaf. Hard of Hearing is the generic term preferred
to indicate any degree of hearing loss from mild to profound.
Intellectual Disability (previously Developmental Disability)
An intellectual disability is a mental disability that has an onset before
age 22 and may continue indefinitely. The term includes individuals with autism,
sensory impairments, mental illness, and congenital disabilities. Mentally
retarded is an unacceptable term when referring to people with this disability.
Developmental disability is the preferred term when referring to any disability
that causes measurable intellectual impairment.
Down Syndrome is caused by improper chromosomal division during fetal development
that results in varying degrees of developmental disabilities. Any reference
to Mongoloid/Mongol is unacceptable. When referring to this population, a person
with Down Syndrome is preferred.
A learning disability is a permanent condition that affects the way some individuals
take in, retain and express information. Some groups prefer to use a specific
learning disability (i.e. dyslexia) because it emphasizes that only certain
learning processes are affected. For general use, person with a learning disability
Psychological or Mental Disability
Mental Disability is any illness of the mind, such as altered perceptions,
memory, emotional balance, thought or behavior. The terms "emotional disability", "mental
disability", "mental illness" and "psychiatric disability" are
acceptable whereas "emotional disorder", "mentally sick", "emotional
disturbance" and "mental disorder" are considered negative and
should be avoided except in their medical context. Words such as manic, lunatic,
demented, possessed or psycho are offensive and should never be applied to
people facing mental health problems.
Dwarfism is an accepted medical term, but it should not be used as general
terminology. Terms such as "little people" or "midget" imply
less than full adult status in society. The preferred generic term is person
of small stature.
Spastic describes a muscle with sudden abnormal of involuntary spasms. Spastic
is never used to describe someone with a disability. Muscles are spastic, people
For more detailed disability definitions, see the Dictionary
of Disability Terminology link.