Positive language empowers. When writing or speaking about people with disabilities or combat-related injuries, 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 accompanying chart shows examples of positive and negative phrases.
Affirmative Phrase: Person who has a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
Negative Phrase: A victim of TBI
Affirmative Phrase: Person who has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Negative Phrase: Afflicted by PTSD
Affirmative Phrase: Person with an intellectual, cognitive, developmental disability
Negative Phrase: Retarded; mentally defective
Affirmative Phrase: Person with a psychiatric disability
Negative Phrase: Crazy; nuts
Affirmative Phrase: Person who is blind, person who is visually impaired
Negative Phrase: The blind
Affirmative Phrase: Person with a disability
Negative Phrase: The disabled; handicapped
Affirmative Phrase: Person who is deaf
Negative Phrase: The deaf; deaf and dumb
Affirmative Phrase: Person who is hard of hearing
Negative Phrase: Suffers a hearing loss
Affirmative Phrase: Person with epilepsy, person with seizure disorder
Negative Phrase: Epileptic
Affirmative Phrase: Person who uses a wheelchair
Negative Phrase: Confined or restricted to a wheelchair
Affirmative Phrase: Person with a physical disability, physically disabled
Negative Phrase: Crippled; lame; deformed
Affirmative Phrase: Unable to speak, uses synthetic speech
Negative Phrase: Dumb; mute
Affirmative Phrase: Person who is successful, productive
Negative Phrase: Has overcome his/her disability; is courageous (when it implies the person has courage because of having a disability)
From America's Heroes at Work. www.americasheroeswork.gov.
This fact sheet was developed in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL) Office of Disability Employment Policy, the Job Accommodation Network, the Veterans' Employment and Training Service, the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, and the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.