Disabled Terminology, How Do you refer to yourself?

From the desk of Guest Editor, and AXIS Dance Company board member, Rebecca Fortelka.

When referring to the disabled community, I think we all have different opinions on what is preferred terminology. The disabled community on a whole prefers active and empowering terms. Some of the most popular and inclusive terms include mobility or hearing impairment because of their ease of understanding. Also, people may like to include the actual condition with which they have been diagnosed, as this allows the person to have a candid conversation while educating others.

We must keep in mind that although a person may be disabled, they may not self-identify with the disabled community, so we must not lump all people together. Many people who need disability benefits and services don’t identify with this term. Consider using ‘people with health conditions or impairments’ if it seems more appropriate.

I was actually able to participate in a candid Facebook chat with members of GimpGirl Community and the following is the do and don’t list we came up with of when choosing appropriate terminology.

Please Avoid:

  •  (the) handicapped, (the) disabled
  • afflicted by, suffers from, victim of
  • confined to a wheelchair, wheelchair-bound
  • mentally handicapped, mentally defective, retarded, subnormal
  • cripple, invalid
  • spastic
  • able-bodied
  • mental patient, insane, mad
  • deaf and dumb, deaf mute
  • the blind
  • an epileptic, diabetic, depressive, and so on...
  • dwarf, midget
  • fits, spells, attacks

Please Consider Using:

  • disabled (people)
  • has [name of condition or impairment]
  • wheelchair user
  • with a learning disability (singular), with learning disabilities (plural)
  • disabled person
  • person with cerebral palsy
  • non-disabled
  • person with a mental health condition
  • deaf, user of American Sign Language (ASL), person with a hearing impairment
  • people with visual impairments, blind people, blind, and partially sighted people
  • person with epilepsy, diabetes, depression or someone who has epilepsy, diabetes, depression
  • someone with restricted growth or short stature
  • seizures

The takeaway I got from this conversation both online and in real life is that we just want to be accepted for what we can do. We all bring a unique perspective to the world, and that should be celebrated rather than seen as a negative. The media portrays us as people who are suffering or afflicted, but in actuality we are surviving and thriving!