Using inclusive language: a style guide for journalists

national disability journalist guideAcceptable language regarding people with disability has changed over time, and standards continue to adapt as understanding and perceptions evolve. Many of the terms below were once widely used and were not always considered offensive, but now are widely considered to imply inferiority and to marginalise. Here are a few terms to avoid:

Afflicted with: Implies that a person with a disability is suffering or has a reduced quality of life.

Able-bodied: Refers to a person who does not have a disability. The term implies that all people with disabilities lack “able bodies” or the ability to use their bodies well.

Confined to a wheelchair: Describes a person only in relationship to a piece of equipment designed to liberate rather than confine.

Crazy, insane, nuts, psycho: All are considered offensive and should not be used except in direct quotes.

Deaf and dumb/deaf-mute: Avoid these terms as they are often used inaccurately and can be offensive.

Defect, birth defect, defective: Avoid these terms when describing a disability because they imply the person is somehow incomplete or sub-par.

Epileptic fit: The term seizure is preferred when referring to the brief manifestation of symptoms common among those with epilepsy. Avoid stating that the person had a fit or an epileptic fit.

Loony, loony bin, lunatic: All are considered offensive and should not be used except in direct quotes.

Mentally retarded: Always try to specify the type of disability being referenced. Otherwise, the terms mental disability, intellectual disability and developmental disability are acceptable.

Midget: The term was used in the past to describe an unusually short and proportionate person. It is now widely considered derogatory.

Paraplegic: Avoid referring to an individual as a paraplegic. Instead, say the person has paraplegia.

Schizophrenic: Use people-first language, stating that someone is “a person with schizophrenia” or “a person diagnosed with schizophrenia” rather than a schizophrenic or a schizophrenic person.

Spastic or a spaz. It is acceptable to refer to someone as having spastic cerebral palsy, but it is derogatory to refer to someone as spastic or a spaz.

Stricken with, suffers from, victim of: These terms carry the assumption that a person with a disability is suffering or has a reduced quality of life.

Go to the Quick List for alternative terms for the above and other commonly used terms, and to the main Style Guide for a more explanatory look at  the alternatives.

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