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Appropriate Language about Disability

Islam dignifies all of creation and people with disabilities are a part of that creation. Our language when talking and writing about people with disabilities should do the same. As Muslims, we should use words and phrases that are respectful and make the people we are talking about feel good, not put down.

Traditional language has ascribed words and phrases that demean people with disabilities and promote an attitude of pity toward them. Terms like lame, crippled, retarded, handicapped, afflicted and suffers from are no longer acceptable and should be avoided.

Please always put the person before his/her disability when describing someone with a disability. Don’t use the term “the disabled.” Instead, say “person with a disability.”

Also, people with disabilities are not confined or bound to a device they are using to be mobile. For example, a wheelchair is a mobility device and the person is using it. When describing someone with a physical disability using a mobility device like this, say person in a wheelchair, not wheelchair bound or confined to a wheelchair.

People with disabilities are people and want to be treated with respect and dignity just like people without disabilities. They do not have special gifts or characteristics. They are not any more or less courageous or amazing than people without disabilities. People with disabilities are grateful for the abilities that Allah (s.w.t.) has given them. Therefore, people with disabilities often use these abilities to their maximum potential.

For example, a person who is blind can have good hearing or bad hearing just like someone with 20-20 vision. A person who is blind will rely on and utilize the hearing more effectively.

Here are some key terms to keep in mind when talking about disability issues.

Instead of… Please use…
Birth defect, congenital defect, deformity Person born with a disability, person who has a congenital disability
Blind (the), visually impaired (the) Person who is blind, person with low vision
Cripple, crippled, lame Person with a disability, person who has a spinal cord injury, arthritis, etc.
Hard of hearing, hearing impaired Person who is hard of hearing
Deaf-mute, deaf and dumb Person who is deaf
Epileptic Person who has epilepsy
Fit, attack, spell Seizure
Handicapped Person with a disability
Handicapped parking, bathrooms Disability or accessible parking, bathrooms
Inarticulate, incoherent Person who has a speech disorder, person who has a speech disability
Insane (unsound mind), lunatic, maniac, mental patient, mentally diseased, mentally ill, neurotic, psychotic Person with a mental health disability or mental illness
Note: The term “insane” (unsound mind) should only be used in a strictly legal sense.
Learning disabled, learning disordered, dyslexic (the) Person with a learning disability
Mentally retarded, simple, mongoloid Person with an intellectual or developmental disability
Physically challenged, handicapped, impaired Person with a disability
Spastic Person who has spasms
Victim of cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, etc. Person who has cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, etc.

Adapted from A Way with Words and Images