Talking about disability

Many people find it difficult to talk about disability and struggle with what to say.

Follow these tips and you can't go wrong.

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What not to say

“What do I call you?”

Every disabled person talks about their disability in a different way. Get to know them and you’ll find out their preference.

If you really need to know about their disability, the best way to ask is “how should I refer to your impairment?”.

Saying “let’s go for a walk” to a wheelchair user

Okay, so it’s a bit embarrassing, but it’s not the end of the world. Slips of the tongue happen all the time, so apologise or laugh it off, but don’t go too over the top.

It’s rare for a wheelchair user to say “let’s go for a wheel around the park”.

“You’re so brave/inspiring/brilliant”

Disabled people do sometimes face barriers getting out and about, but be cool – wheeling out the “you’re so brave!” line is a bit patronising.

Loads of disabled people lead really active lives.

Words to use when talking about disability

There are some words that many disabled people find hurtful or harsh because they:

  • suggest disabled people are helpless
  • are pitying
  • are often used abusively.

Some disabled people may use controversial language when talking about themselves. That’s their choice, but it doesn’t mean they’d be happy for you to use it.

Here are some tips on language that’s largely preferred:

You could sayYou should avoid
Disabled person or person with a disabilityCripple, victim, sufferer or the disabled
Deaf person or hard of hearing personThe deaf
Blind person or visually impaired personThe blind
Person with or of restricted growth, Midget
Person with a learning disabilityRetard, slow or simple
Person with Down SyndromeRetard, slow or simple
Person with a mental health problemMental patient, psycho or schizo
A wheelchair userWheelchair-bound or confined to a wheelchair

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