ENC1101 First-year Composition


                             Guidelines for Avoiding Ableist Language

Department of English


Guidelines for Avoiding Ablest Language


Ableism is defined as stereotyping and negative attitudes toward people with a physical or mental disability or illness that result in discrimination and/or prejudice. Disability is defined as a physical or mental restriction or lack of ability that substantially limits an individuaL’s performance of one or more major life activities: seeing, hearing, speaking, walking, working, and learning. A disability is not a handicap. Handicap is defined as an obstacle or barrier to the freedom and independence of people with disabilities. Impairment is defined as a physiological disorder affecting one or more of a number of body systems or a mental or psychological disorder.


Ablest language is the use of words or labels that disparages persons with disabilities as abnormal, unhealthy, and unable. Ableist language depersonalizes and stereotypes persons with disabilities by emphasizing the disability over the person.


Rule 1. Do not refer to a person’s disability unless it is relevant.


The most widely preferred term for a person with a disability is “disabled” although alternative expressions such as “physically or mentally different,” “physically or mentally challenged,” “differently abled,” “exceptional,” and “special needs” are commonly used.


Use these expressions cautiously because they often function as euphemisms and disparaging labels. Use the current terminology “person with a disability” or name the specific disability; do not use “handicapped persons” or “the handicapped” to refer to persons with disabilities.


Rule 2. Use person first language to describe persons with disabilities.


Person First Rule


According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, always describe the person over the disability: Name the person first and only when relevant, then follow with pertinent descriptors such as the particular disability or illness. Rather than calling someone “an AIDS sufferer” or “an AIDS victim,” refer to that person, not the condition, and call him or her “a person living with AIDS.” Use “person who has polio” not “polio victim.” Use “person who uses a wheelchair” not “wheelchair bound.”


autistic child cerebral palsy epileptic Mongoloid

Preferred Terminology

child who has autism person with cerebral palsy person with epilepsy child with Down’s syndrome


Rule 3. Use adjectives to describe persons with disabilities rather than nouns. Calling a person “a cripple,” “a deaf mute,” “an arthritic, or a quadriplegic” reduces the individual to a disease and stereotypes that individual as helpless, weak, and dependent. Rather than using a noun to refer to an individual with a disability, use adjective forms such as “person who is hard of hearing,” “someone with arthritis,” or “a person who is blind.” Avoid adjectives that arouse pity such as “poor,”” helpless,” and “unfortunate.”


Rule 4. Avoid describing persons with disabilities in emotional or sympathetic terms.

Avoid using sensationalistic expressions such as “suffers from,” “afflicted with,” “stricken with” or “victim of” or nouns such as “invalid,” “patient,” or~~ case. Such terms dehumanize the person and emphasize weakness and powerlessness.


Rule 5. Do not use patronizing expressions to describe persons with disabilities.


Avoid expressions such as “a courageous being,” “doing so well given the circumstances,” and “brave.” Avoid ableist expressions such as “was blind, but now I see.”


Rule 6. Cautiously use common expressions that refer to disabilities: “blind as a bat,” “deaf as a doornail,” “crazy as a Loon,” “a mental midget.”


Avoid discriminatory jokes about people with disabilities; such humor is offensive.


Rule 7. Use alternative neutral forms to describe persons with disabilities.



Preferred Terminology


person without disabilities/a typical person

birth defect/affliction

congenital disability/birth anomaly


person who is blind or visually impaired/  person   who is deaf

Downs person/Mongoloid           

person with Down’s syndrome


person who has epilepsy, person with   seizure disorder

epileptic fit                                

person with epileptic episodes/events/Seizure disorder

deaf and dumb

person who is hard of hearing/ person who is deaf        

mute, speechless, stammerer, lisp, stutterer                    

person with a communication disability

mentally retarded ,                   

person who has mental retardation


person with developmental delay / developmental disability

psycho/mental case ,

person with an emotional disorder

mentally ill/crazy    

person who has mental illness/person with an emotional disorder

little person, midget                    

person of short stature, shortstatured person, person with dwarfism