Disability Awareness and Language

Generally, use the same terms and language when speaking to disabled voters as you would with anyone else. There are a few words, however, that are considered insensitive or even offensive. Here are some main points to remember.

  • Don't describe interactions with words like crazy, insane, slow, or stupid.
  • People should not be described as suffering, victims, or confined.
  • Terms like retarded, handicapped, and crippled are not appropriate.

The following examples are somewhat obvious, but they clearly show the difference between language that focuses on disability rather than the person.

Do: Would you assist the man using a wheelchair at the door?
Avoid: The man sitting in the wheelchair can’t open the door. He needs help.

Do: The woman in the red jacket with a guide dog has some questions.
Avoid: See that blind woman over there (pointing). She can’t vote by herself.

Best Practice: Use language that is polite, friendly, matter-of-fact, and does not focus on disability or attribute interactions to disability.

People-First & Identity-First Language

People-first language focuses on the person rather than the disability.  For example:

  • Person who is blind--instead of blind person.
  • Woman using a wheelchair...instead of woman confined to a wheelchair.

Identity-first language recognizes that disability is simply a part of a person's overall identity. Many people with disabilities prefer the shift to identify first language that uses simpler, more direct descriptions such as blind person, deaf person, or wheelchair user.

Both identity-first and people-first terminology are acceptable. Use the language that best reflects your constituents' preferences.