Being Purple

Language Matters

Our language is continually changing to encompass new ideas and express our evolving perspectives. Sometimes this happens organically and, other times, by deliberate changes we make when we become aware that our habitual language is not in line with our respectful intentions.

Almost all of us want to show respect for the people with whom we live and work. Staying in touch with the latest recommendations for disability language is a great way to stay up-to-date in your signage, social media, and written communication

In the past, the language surrounding people with disabilities often defined or pre-judged the individual by the nature of their condition. Language that is biased toward these people perpetuates old and negative stereotypes about these individuals.

When we define people by who they are and what they accomplish, rather than the physical or mental situations they face, we empower them to contribute and enrich our communities and our culture. Our socially aware and inclusive language should value people as parents, neighbours, co-workers, teachers, and friends.

Sometimes inclusive language can seem a bit cumbersome, but with a few simple changes each of us can make a significant difference—helping to promote an inclusive culture while setting an example both inside and outside our organizations.

UK government has provided a very useful guideline on inclusive language when communicating with or about disabled people

Words to use and avoid:

Avoid passive, victim words. Use language that respects disabled people as active individuals with control over their own lives.

(the) handicapped, (the) disabledDisabled (people)
Afflicted by, suffers from, victim ofHas [name of condition or impairment]
Confined to a wheelchair, wheelchair-boundWheelchair user
Mentally handicapped, mentally defective, retarded, subnormalWith a learning disability (singular) with learning disabilities (plural)
Cripple, invalidDisabled person
SpasticPerson with cerebral palsy
Mental patient, insane, madPerson with a mental health condition
Deaf and dumb; deaf muteDeaf, user of British Sign Language (BSL), person with a hearing impairment
The blindPeople with visual impairments; blind people; blind and partially sighted people
An epileptic, diabetic, depressive, and so onPerson with epilepsy, diabetes, depression or someone who has epilepsy, diabetes, depression
Dwarf; midgetSomeone with restricted growth or short stature
Fits, spells, attacksSeizures


Inclusive language: words to use and avoid when writing about disability

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