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The language of mental or physical disability (from OXFORD Living Dictionaries)

Read full article: Avoid using dated or offensive words with these guidelines for use of specific terminology.
The language that is now considered suitable to refer to people with physical and mental disabilities is very different from that used a few decades ago. The changes are due partly to campaigns by organizations that promote the interests of particular groups of disabled people and partly to the public's increased sensitivity to the issues. People are now keen to avoid using terms that might reinforce any negative stereotypes of people with disabilities, in the same way that they try to avoid the racist or sexist terms that were once commonly used.

The word disabled itself came to be used as the standard term for referring to people with physical and mental disabilities from the 1960s onwards. It's still the most generally accepted term in both British and American English and has replaced terms that are now seen as offensive, such as crippled, handicapped, or mentally defective.

If you want to use appropriate language you not only need to avoid words which have been superseded, such as mongolism or backward. You should also try to do the following:
  • avoid using the + an adjective to refer to an entire group of people, such as ‘the blind’, ‘the deaf’, or ‘the disabled’. This type of collective term is seen as dehumanizing: in essence, it reduces the people with a disability to the disability itself. It also ignores the individuality of those people by lumping them together in an undifferentiated group. The preferred forms are now ‘a person with …’ or ‘people with ……’ wherever possible, i.e. ‘people with sight problems’, ‘people with disabilities’, etc. If that isn't suitable, use ‘blind people’, ‘disabled people’, and so on.
  • avoid using terms such as victim, suffer from, be afflicted with, or wheelchair-bound which suggest that the person concerned is the helpless object of the disability. Instead of suffer from, you can just say have:
Their youngest child has cystic fibrosis.

Another alternative is ‘be diagnosed with’:

In 1984, he was diagnosed with autism.

Rather than describing someone as wheelchair-bound, you can just say that they ‘use a wheelchair’.
  • avoid using words which once related to disabilities, but which are now generally used as insults, such as mongol, cretin, spastic, schizo, dumb, etc.


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