Quick Guide to Inclusive Language

Does anyone remember The Spastic Society or The Association of Parents with Backward Children?  No?  That’s because, for what should be fairly obvious reasons, their names were changed a long time ago. The Spastic Society became Scope and the Association of Parents of Backwards Children became Mencap.

With an increasing enlightenment towards disability and how it might be stigmatised merely by how it is named or described comes a drive to support language which is more understanding of disability.  Thus making language more inclusive and combating ableism.

I looked up the dictionary definition of ableism and it was a bit rubbish so I found a better definition from Access Livings website.  Ableism according to them is The discrimination of and social prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior. At its heart, ableism is rooted in the assumption that disabled people require ‘fixing’ and defines people by their disability.

While language may seem to be fairly fluid and where an acceptable description this year may be considered offensive next year here are some generally accepted guidelines (as of 2024) to help you be as inclusive as possible.


Use people first language

This is where the language puts the person before the condition

For example use ‘people with disabilities’ instead of ‘disabled people’

‘People with learning disabilities’ instead of ‘the learning disabled’.

‘People with visual impairments’ instead of ‘blind people’

People first language allows descriptions where the person is less likely to be defined by their disability.


Positive not negative language

Try to avoid language which implies pain, distress or where a disability has any negative impact on someones life

It’s more appropriate to refer to someone as ‘having cerebral palsy’ as opposed to ‘suffering from cerebral palsy’

Say ‘Wheelchair user’ instead of ‘confined to a wheelchair’



Do not dramatise or sensationalise disability.  Disability not a superpower.  Constantly emphasising that someone has a disability while discussing their achievements can imply that it is unusual for them to have achieved anything at all.

When someone with a disability achieves something special they may also not appreciate being congratulated for having ‘overcome’ their disability. They may have just seen themselves as having done something they wanted to do and may prefer to be congratulated for the achievement alone.  Say ‘Well done for getting to the top of the mountain’ instead of ‘Well done for overcoming your disability and getting to the top of the mountain’. It’s the same thing you would say to any non-disabled person who did it.

In the same way that you would not over emphasise the abilities of someone with a disability you should not assume they are vulnerable or in need of pity.  Avoid words like ‘survivor’ or ‘battle’ to describe how someone with a disability deals with their condition. E.g. ‘Their battle with multiple sclerosis’ or a ‘stroke survivor’



Using language which avoids calling a spade a spade.  Made up words. The need to make up words or phrases to substitute for a perfectly acceptable phrase as if disability is not something that should be addressed directly.

Differently abled is a euphemism that shouldn’t be used specifically for a disabled person.  We are all differently abled.

Handicapable.  Another euphemism and deemed to be horribly condescending

Finally one of the most contentious euphemisms is ‘special needs’. This differentiates the person from everyone else around them when in reality everyone has special needs

Don’t try to be too politically correct.  You’ll just end up spouting a load of nonsense that anyone you are communicating with will either have to translate into plain English or you’ll end up not saying anything at all.

Final point…

Don’t refer to someones disability or health condition unless its necessary or relevant. They may not like their condition to define them.

Final final point.

Also don’t make assumptions and don’t hold to the previous points in this training like they are gospel.  After all is said and done people can self-identify any way they like and may not use the language you use no matter how appropriate it might be for everyone else. If you don’t know how someone wants to be addressed, what their condition is, how it affects them or how they would like to be described just ask them.



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