Subject Material

Talking About Disabilities

Published: 14.11.2012, Updated: 04.03.2017

Why is it important to be aware of the words and phrases that we use when talking to disabled people? Do you know the correct terminology to use? Below you will find both recommended terms and terms to avoid.

Blind personBlind person   

Girl with hearing impairmentGirl with hearing impairment 


Girl in a wheelchairGirl in a wheelchair   

Words convey images and feelings and influence the way people think. The choice of negative language when describing disabled people can injure feelings and create barriers to understanding.



recommend, mandatory, avoid, impairment, afflict, suffer, cripple, invalid, confine, spastic, insane, dumb, mute, restrict, stature, seizure, spell, fit



Tasks and Activities

Read through the terms in the table and then do the tasks which follow. (These terms from HM Government Office for Disability Issues, are recommended but not mandatory.)

Recommended TermsRecommended Norwegian Terms
Terms to AvoidNorwegian Terms to Avoid
disabled people the disabled, the handicapped 
has + name of impairment afflicted by, suffers from 
disabled person crippled, invalid, physically handicapped 
wheelchair user confined to a wheelchair 
person with cerebral palsy spastic 
non-disabled able-bodied 
person with mental condition mental patient, insane, mad 
person with hearing impairment deaf and dumb, deaf mute 
blind people, people with visual impairment the blind 
person with restricted growth or short stature dwarf midget 
seizures fits,spells,attacks 


  1. What are the equivalent terms in Norwegian? Fill in the table showing the recommended Norwegian terms and those which should be avoided.
    If you need some help, click here.

    Funksjonshemming - TerminologiFunksjonshemming - Terminologi

  2. Here is more useful vocabulary. Try the pair off task:
    MyTask - Click icon to open task!MyTask - Click icon to open task! 
  3. Describe the three pictures of people with a disability using recommended terminology.
  4. Oral work, in pairs: Each person choose to be one of the disabled people in the pictures. You are meeting for the first time:
    • greet each other
    • tell each other a little about yourself using some of the terms above
    • ask and answer about the availability of facilities for disabled people at your school or workplace

Useful links:

Disability Etiquette 

Language of Inclusive Communication 


  1. What is the difference between the terms, "disabled people" and "people with disabilities"? Is the one to be preferred over the other?
  2. Many of the terms to be avoided are often found in daily use and in the media. Search the Internet for examples (use some of the words to be avoided as search words) and discuss whether the examples you find are used in a derogatory way.

Recommended Autobiography and Film

My Left Foot by Christy Brown, My Left Foot - Novel, Film and Art.