Outdated terms

There are many terms that, over the years, have been used to describe various disabilities. These terms are actually correct if you use their entry in the dictionary; but over the years meanings have been changed, by society, so that they now have negative connotations and can be considered offensive. I have either heard or seen many of these words in text. They include:

  • Handicapped – Someone with a physical or mental disability that prevents them living a totally normal life.
  • Spastic – Someone born with a disability which makes it difficult for them to control their muscles.
  • Invalid – Someone who needs to be cared for because they have an illness or disability.
  • Wheelchair bound – Unable to walk through injury or illness and relying on a wheelchair to get around.
  • Retarded – Much less advanced mentally than most people of their age.
  • Mentally handicapped – A condition in which a part of a person’s mind is damaged or is not working properly.
  • Deaf-and-dumb – Unable to hear or speak.
  • Deaf-mute – Someone who cannot hear or speak.
  • The blind – Someone who is unable to see.
  • Blind as a bat – having extremely poor eyesight.
  • Dwarf – People who are much smaller than normal.
  • Midget – Describes something that is very small.
  • Afflicted by/suffers from/has an illness – To be ill with.
  • Disabled person – Someone who has an illness, injury, or condition that tends to restrict the way that they can live their life especially by making it difficult for them to move about.

In my opinion it is quite a simple task to make these terms more acceptable and user friendly:

  • Person with a disability – This can replace handicapped/spastic/invalid or disabled person. I advocate this term as it puts the person before the disability.
  • Wheelchair user – replacing wheelchair bound. The word ‘bound’ implies something permanent: okay I need a wheelchair to get around, but I do not sit in my wheelchair all day long.
  • Person with a learning disability – replacing retarded/mentally handicapped.
  • Person with a hearing impairment – replacing deaf-and-dumb/deaf-mute.
  • Person with a visual impairment – replacing blind as a bat/the blind.
  • Person of short stature – replacing dwarf/midget.
  • Disabled by – replacing afflicted by/suffers from/has an illness. To me ‘afflicted by’ and ‘suffers from’ have negative connotations whereas ‘has an illness’ implies something you are going to recover from.

There are also terms that have been created to be acceptable which, in my opinion, are not entirely accurate.

  • Differently-abled – There are some things that I can do that the ‘able bodied’ can’t. I can park on double yellow lines or get two theatre tickets for the price of one, but I don’t think these are the differences thought of when this term was made up.
  • Special needs – I am aware this term is accurately used, especially in ‘Social Care’ areas, but it is not a term I would use to describe myself. I feel it creates a big difference between people with a disability and those ‘able bodied’.
  • Inspirational – I am just trying to live the same life everyone else leads. I don’t consider that inspirational.

The terms used in this blog are my personal opinions (from my life as a wheelchair user and friends with a disability). I am aware that other people prefer to use different terms, but I do feel that this list could be helpful to writers.

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