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Special School District of St. Louis County

Words Can Hurt:
Learn How to Talk About Disabilities

Words matter. They affect expectations, perceptions and feelings. People-first language is a more respectful, accurate way of communicating. People with disabilities are not their diagnoses or disabilities; they are people, first.

Here are some common rules to remember when talking about disabilities:

  • Make reference to the person first, then the disability. A person isn’t a condition, so avoid describing a person as such.
  • A person with a disability is more like people without disabilities than different.
  • If the disability isn’t germane to the story or conversation, don’t mention it.

Use Avoid
People with disabilities The handicapped or disabled
Person who has/person with
(a disability)
Victim/afflicted with/suffering from
(a disability)
She has autism (or a diagnosis of autism). She's autistic.
He has a cognitive disability/diagnosis. He is mentally retarded.
She uses a wheelchair. She is confined to/is
wheelchair bound.
He has a physical disability/diagnosis. He is a quadriplegic/is crippled.
He receives special
education services.
He's in special education.
Disabled since birth/born with Birth defect
He has a mental health condition/diagnosis. He's emotionally disturbed/
mentally ill.
Children without disabilities Normal or healthy kids
Words Can Hurt
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12110 Clayton Rd, Town & Country, MO 63131  /  314.989.8100  /  314.989.8552 – 711 (Missouri Relay)

Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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