Person-First Language

Using “person-first” language is an important consideration when talking to or about someone with a special need or disability. A general guideline is to always put the person before the disability (i.e., “person with a disability” rather than “disabled person”).

Below are some helpful words and phrases to ensure respectful communication by putting the person first:

  • Child care instead of day care
  • Children with typical needs instead of typical-needs children
  • Children with special needs instead of special-needs children
  • Child with a disability instead of disabled or handicapped child
  • Child with autism instead of autistic child or the autistic
  • developmental delay instead of slow or retarded
  • Emotional disorder or mental illness instead of mentally ill or insane
  • Person who has a learning disability instead of learning disabled person
  • Person who has a physical disability instead of handicapped person, disabled person or crippled
  • Person with cognitive or intellectual disability instead of retarded
  • Person who has Down syndrome instead of retarded or Down’s person
  • Person who is without speech or is nonverbal instead of mute or dumb
  • Person who uses a wheelchair instead of confined to a wheelchair or crippled
  • Person who has [cerebral palsy, MS, etc.] instead of person who is afflicted with/suffers from [cerebral palsy, MS, etc.]
  • Person who is deaf/hard of hearing instead of hearing impaired
  • A person who has typical needs or is able-bodied instead of normal person

Language can be used as a powerful tool to facilitate change and bring about new values, attitudes and social integration, embracing disabilities as a unique part of some people, one that we should not be embarrassed about, neglect, feel sorry for or make excuses for, it just is.