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Talking About Disabilities

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.

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

Blind person with guide dog. Photo.

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. Deaf girl using sign language. Photo.
    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 - Terminologi
    Funksjonshemming - Terminologi
  2. Describe the three pictures of people with a disability using recommended terminology.
  3. Girl in a wheelchair. Photo.
    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.


The Work We Do




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