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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.

Say a person... Don't say...
Who has _____or a person with _____ Afflicted with, suffers from, victim of or stricken with
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
Without speech or non-verbal Mute or dumb
Developmental delay Slow
Typical or "non-disabled" Normal, healthy or able-bodied
Seizures Fits
Condition Disease
Uses a wheelchair Confined to a wheelchair or wheelchair-bound
Power wheelchair Electric wheelchair
Physical disability Crippled or lame
Paralyzed Invalid or paralytic
Congenital disability Birth defects
Has autism, epilepsy, etc. Is autistic, epileptic, etc.
Has intellectual disabilities Is retarded
Personal care attendant Caretaker


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