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About one in five Americans are currently living with a disability, and almost everyone will experience a disability at some point in their lifetime. Below are ways you can demonstrate increased sensitivity and awareness of people with disabilities.

People First Language

Language shapes the way those around us speak and act toward one another and conveys the respect we have for others. The use of appropriate language about people with disabilities is an important tool in building a community that accepts all people. Appropriate language is both sensitive and accurate. ARTS for ALL Wisconsin promotes the use of “people-first” language—language that puts the focus on the individual, rather than on a disability. “People-first” language helps us remember that people are unique individuals and their abilities or disabilities are only part of who they are.

Affirmative Phrase

Person who is deaf or blind; person with a hearing or visual impairment

Person with a mental illness

Person who uses a wheelchair

Person with a physical disability; person with a mobility impairment


Nonaffirmative Phrase

The deaf, blind; deaf and dumb; suffers from hearing loss

Mentally ill person; crazy; psycho; lunatic

Confined or restriced to a wheelchair; wheelchair bound

Cripple; lame; handicapped; deformed; spaz



In addition to using people first language, it's also important to think about how you interact with people with disabilities (this is great information for interacting with anyone respectfully too!).

Treat Adults as Adults

Talk to people with disabilities as you would anyone else, at their age level and not below.

Talking About a Person's Disability

Sharing information about a disability is only at the choosing of the individual. Some people are willing, but some are not. Please respect a person's choice to disclose on their terms.

Ask Before Offering Assistance

People with disabilities live with their bodies every day, so don't assume they need help. Ask first.


Information on this page was adapted, in part, from the following sources: United Spinal Association, and the Spina Bifida Association