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Office of Human Resources

Equal Opportunity & Compliance


The Power of Words

Positive language empowers. When writing or speaking about people with disabilities, it is important to put the person first. Group designations such as "the blind," "the retarded," or "the disabled" are inappropriate because they do not reflect the individuality, equality or dignity of people with disabilities. Further, words like "normal person' imply that the person with a disability isn't normal, whereas "person without a disability" is descriptive but not negative. The following are examples of positive and negative phrases.

Affirmative Phrases Negative Phrases
  • person with an intellectual, cognitive, developmental disability
  • person who is blind, person who is visually impaired
  • person with a disability
  • person who is deaf
  • person who is hard of hearing
  • person who has multiple sclerosis
  • person with cerebral palsy
  • person with epilepsy, person with seizure disorder
  • person who uses a wheelchair
  • person who has muscular dystrophy
  • person with a physical disability, physically disabled
  • unable to speak, uses synthetic speech
  • person with psychiatric disability
  • person who is successful, productive
  • retarded; mentally defective
  • the blind
  • the disabled; handicapped
  • the deaf; deaf and dumb
  • suffers a hearing loss
  • afflicted by MS
  • CP victim
  • epileptic
  • confined or restricted to a wheelchair
  • stricken by MD
  • crippled; lame; deformed
  • dumb; mute
  • crazy; nuts
  • has outcome his/her disability; is courageous (when it implies the person has courage because of having a disability)

***The above information and more can be found at: http://www.dol.gov/odep/pubs/fact/focus.htm.