CODI: Cornucopia of Disability Information

Rights and Responsibilities of Persons with Disabilities


     The way you refer to people with disabilities in oral and written
communications can have either a positive or a negative influence.  Adopting
the following suggestions can help others know that you respect people with
disabilities and may encourage others to think and act more appropriately
toward their fellow human beings.

     Put people first.  The person should always come first.  An individual
has abilities as well as disabilities.  Focusing on the person emphasizes
the status we share, rather than conditions we presently do not.  Thus, say
"the person who has a disability", rather than "the disabled person".
Similarly, it is better to refer to "people with disabilities" than to "the
disabled" or "the handicapped".

     Emphasize action.  People with disabilities, even severe ones, can be
quite active.  Thus it is better to say "President Franklin Roosevelt used a
wheelchair and occasionally walked using braces and crutches", rather than
"he was confined to a wheelchair", "the wheelchair-bound woman", or "the boy
was in a wheelchair".

     Do not sensationalize, pity or characterize.  Avoid words like
"afflicted" , "crippled" and "victim" when referring to a person with a
disability.  Also, remember that people are more than their disabilities and
should not be defined by those disabilities.  Instead of saying that
"President Theodore Roosevelt suffered from asthma", "the Governor's Counsel
is paraplegic", "Peter Stuyvesant was an amputee" or "Moses was afflicted
with a speech impairment", say "Einstein had a learning disability",
"Napoleon had epilepsy" or "Alexander Graham Bell had a hearing impair-

     Avoid inappropriate words.  "Handicapped" has gone the way of "invalid"
and "crippled" and is no longer viewed as an appropriate term to refer to a
person with a disability.  "Differently abled" and "physically challenged"
are fad phrases which have not gained general acceptance among people with
disabilities and offend many.  "Special" when used to refer to people with
disabilities, is a rather backhanded compliment; everyone is special in some
way; use of that term as an alternative to "different" is as inappropriate
as using the latter term.  Words like "wheelchair person" simply should not
be used.  People without current disabilities, when referred to in contrast
to people with disabilities should be referred to as "nondisabled" or
"people without current disabilities", rather than as "able bodied" or
"normal"; people with disabilities may be more "able" than others with
respect to pertinent activities.  Of course, in some contexts, when quoting
from an old statute or referring to a particular entity, use of some words
which otherwise should be avoided may be necessary; for example, the Federal
Rehabilitation Act uses the term "handicapped" and schools have "Committees
on Special Education" (an improvement over the former "Committees on the
Handicapped").  At the time when some organizations were formed and laws
were written, few people had considered the role of language in encouraging

     By choosing words which convey a positive image of our colleagues we
begin to break down often unconscious attitudinal barriers to their
integration in the mainstream of our society.

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