Inclusive Terminology 101

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



Outdated word:  

Appropriate word:  


Handicapped, crippled, cripple   

Accessible, disabled  

Examples – “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, A 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, and 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 or 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.    


This information is also available as a Microsoft Word file (Download)

Additional Resources: