Inclusive Terminology 101


Inclusive Terminology 101


One way that we demonstrate our commitment to accessibility is by being informed on appropriate language to use.  Words matter – for example, handicap is no longer an appropriate term to use.  Below is a quick guide on terminology and which terms to say adios to. This is intended as a starting point, not a complete guide

Outdated word: 

Appropriate word: 


Handicapped, crippled, cripple  

Accessible, disabled 

Example – “accessible restroom”, “accessible parking spot”, a person with a disability 


Disability, disabled  

This is a made-up word typically used by those not comfortable with disability and has no meaning to people with disabilities.  Instead, use disability.  See the article below on #SayTheWord   

Special Needs, Special 

A person with a Disability, Student with a Disability 

Using this term is condescending and makes it appear that providing disability access is optional. It’s the law (federal/state/ local) and there’s nothing special about that.

Wheelchair-bound, confined to a wheelchair 

A person with a disability, the person who uses a wheelchair 

No one is “bound” to a wheelchair.  Wheelchair users transfer in/out of their chairs daily.

Retard, mentally challenged 

Intellectual or developmental disability, cognitive disability 


Crazy, insane, bonkers, deranged 

Wild, wacky, out of control, etc 

Using crazy and insane sends the message that it is okay to minimize mental illness and can be hurtful to those with mental illness.   

Hearing impaired, mute, deaf and dumb, deaf-mute 

Deaf or Hard of Hearing; communicates in ASL (if applicable), has hearing loss, late-deafened. 



Hearing impaired is not used because the word impaired implies there is something wrong with the individual.   Avoid saying mute or dumb.

Not all deaf/hard of hearing individuals know or use American Sign Language.  Some wear hearing aids, cochlear implants or no hearing devices at all, some lipread, others do not.

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Blind, low vision 

Vision loss varies by individual, use the term they use to describe themselves, not all blind/low vision individuals are easily identifiable.  Some may use a service dog, a cane – you will not always be able to identify their disability.

Seeing Eye Dog  

Service animal  

Not every blind individual uses a service animal or a cane. Service animals are working dogs, so avoid petting them as it can distract them from the assistance they provide their handlers.   




Use this link for version of the information above in Microsoft Word,

Additional Resources: 


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