“Disability” and “disabled” generally describe functional limitations that affect one or more of the major life activities, including walking, lifting, learning and breathing. Person with a disability or disabled person is preferred. And always refer to how a group or individual self-identifies and/or requests to be identified.

Note: Disability and people who have disabilities are not monolithic. Avoid referring to “the disabled” in the same way that you would avoid referring to “the Asians,” “the Jews” or “the African-Americans.” Instead, consider using such terms as “the disability community” or “the disability activist.” Do not use victim of, suffers from, stricken with, or afflicted with.

Additionally, avoid using “differently abled” which is a term that came into vogue in the 1990s as an alternative to “disabled,” “handicapped” or “mentally retarded.” Currently, it is not considered appropriate (and for many, never was). Some consider it condescending, offensive or simply a way of avoiding talking about disability. Others prefer it to “disabled” because “dis” means “not,” which means that “disabled” means “not able.” But particularly when it comes to referring to individuals, “differently abled” is problematic. As some advocates observe, we are all differently abled. 

As an ally, please refrain from using able-bodied. This term is used to describe someone who does not identify as having a disability. Some members of the disability community oppose its use because it implies that all people with disabilities lack “able bodies” or the ability to use their bodies well. The term “non-disabled” or the phrase “does not have a disability” or “is not living with a disability” are more neutral choices.


Adapted from National Center on Disability and Journalism’s Disability Language Style Guide