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    Posted December 8, 2009

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Introduction to Disability 101: A Glossary of Terms and Preferred Language

Disabled people have traditionally been labeled by medical, welfare, and charitable organizations and described in terms of what is "wrong" with them. More importantly, these terms have most often been coined by nondisabled people. The suggested preferred language contained in this Glossary is neutral and descriptive, unlike outdated language (still used today by many) that often carries with it negative connotations. For example, referring to a person as "confined to a wheelchair" or a "victim" of a particular condition is emotionally loaded, biased, and inaccurate. It perpetuates misperceptions about people with disabilities as subjects to be pitied rather than seen in the same light as people without disabilities. Further, it separates the disabled person/population from the nondisabled person/population and from society.

However, many phrases thought to be inappropriate are perfectly acceptable. People who use wheelchairs do "go for a walk." It is fine to say to a person with a visual disability, "See you later," or to a Deaf person, "Did you hear aboutÖ" Most disabled people would not take offense to the use of these common phrases.

Because language is fluid and changes over time, this Glossary is not intended to be definitive, but rather a living document. In developing the Glossary, the Alliance has made every attempt to select the terms preferred by a majority of people with disabilities and is committed to ensuring that it continues to grow and change to reflect the most current attitudes and beliefs of the community.

We hope you find the Glossary to be a helpful resource and welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions. For information, visit


Disability 101: A Glossary of Terms and Preferred Language (PDF)

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