Skip to main content Skip to sitemap

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.

Back to Resources

What not to do

“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:

What to say and what not to say
You could say You should avoid

Disabled person,
person with a disability

Cripple, the disabled, victim, sufferer

Deaf person, hard of hearing person

The deaf

Blind person, visually impaired person

The blind

Person with restricted growth,
Person of

Midget

Person with a learning disability

Retard, slow, simple

Person with Down syndrome

Retard, slow, simple

Person with a mental health problem

Mental patient, psycho, schizo

A wheelchair user

Wheelchair-bound, confined to a wheelchair

Discover more

Disability statistics

Find out more

#WorkWithMe guide

Find out more