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Agency for Persons with
Disabilities/Medicaid Waiver Program
Assistive technology How others show respect Using respectful language



What is “person-first language” and why is it important?

How we use a word is important. Often the terms people use to describe children with disabilities or special medical needs can create stereotypes. Words and images are powerful and can cause harm. Language that is insensitive:
  • Helps create and keep alive myths about people with disabilities.
  • Is a form of discrimination.
  • Can hurt someone by talking about them in a way that makes them feel different and/or less important.
  • Influences people’s self-esteem and how they feel about themselves.
Below are some examples of right and the wrong ways to say things about disabilities or medical problems. Remember that the person comes first, not the disability. That’s why it is called person-first language.

The Right Way - Say This... The Wrong Way - Don’t Say This...
A person with: a disability, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, epilepsy or Down Syndrome Disabled, handicapped, invalid, cripple, physically challenged, palsied, CP, spastic, retarded, epileptic and especially not Mongoloid
A person without speech or a person who is non-verbal or a person who communicates without spoken language Mute or dumb
A person with a developmental delay Slow
A child who is typically developing or a person who does not have a disability Normal, healthy or able-bodied
A person who has seizures Fits
A person who has a Condition Disease
A person who uses a wheelchair Confined to a wheelchair or wheelchair-bound
A person with a physical disability Crippled or lame
A person who is Paralyzed Invalid or paralytic
A person with a congenital condition or disability Birth defects
A person who has autism, a person who has epilepsy, etc. Is autistic, epileptic, etc.
A person who has intellectual disabilities Is retarded
A person with a mental illness Psycho, crazy, loco
Personal care attendant Caretaker

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