English everyday – Talking about disabilities

This post is going to address how to talk about people with disabilities.

A simple rule to follow is ‘person first’. So it’s good to say: A person with autism. A person who has Down’s Syndrome. A person with depression. A person who has epilepsy.  A person with a mental health illness.

Don’t say: an autistic person, a Down’s person, a depressive person, an epileptic person, a mentally ill person.

In general use the constructions:

  • A person with…
  • A person who has…

Blind and Deaf

There are some exceptions to the ‘person who has’ rule, and that’s for blind and deaf people.

It is correct to say: A blind person, a partially sighted person, or a person with sight loss, a visually impaired person, or a person with visual impairment.

Don’t say: a hard-of-seeing person.

It is correct to say: A Deaf person/ a deaf person. Some Deaf people use Deaf with a capital D to show Deaf as part of their identity, as strongly as their nationality or religion.

It’s correct to say: A hard of hearing person.

Don’t say: hearing impaired – some people find this offensive as it implies that deafness is a problem.


It’s good to say: a wheelchair user or a person who uses a wheelchair.

Don’t say things like: wheelchair bound or stuck in a wheelchair.

General taboo words

In the UK, handicapped is not commonly used anymore.

Don’t say retard, dumb, mute, cripple, spastic, invalid, dwarf or midget.

Don’t say things like suffers from… or a victim of…


If you or your children have a disability, how do you talk about it? Whatever language you use is valid for you, as everyone has their own preference.

Any comments? Let me know below.




Published by Abbie

English teacher, coach and writer. Helping English learners and teachers get more confident in their skills.

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