The Power of Language

Have you ever considered how much the words we use demonstrate our attitudes and influence the attitudes of others? If you describe a woman as “wheelchair bound,” does that convey an image of a healthy, socially active, independent professional? If not, what did you think of when you heard that description?  The word “bound” conveys images of limitations and restrictions.

We are certainly not “bound” to wheelchairs. If we do use wheelchairs, we get in and out of them in the blink of an eye. How we describe ourselves, if we have SA/CRS, and how parents describe their children who have SA/CRS become important in our own development of self-image and confidence and also influence the attitudes of others in society.  Take a look at these words and their alternatives. (Users of language other than English, see this international guide here).

NO LONGER USED                                                RECOMMENDED

Handicapped, crippled, abnormal, deformed A person with or having a physical disability or condition
Confined to, bound to, limited by, dependent on “Uses” as in “uses a wheelchair or crutches”
Suffers from, victim of, afflicted by “Has the condition of SA/CRS”
Normal, healthy  (to describe those who do not have a physical disability) The general public, those not having a disability, other people, able-bodied individuals
Special, brave, inspiring, superhuman, courageous, heroic These words may be okay if the individual has actually performed a task that would be considered brave or inspiring if a person without the physical disability would also be called brave or inspiring for the same reason. When used to describe routine tasks of everyday life, these words are insulting because they indicate that nothing more is expected of the individual with a physical disability.
Something “wrong,” “what’s wrong” Has a physical disability or condition
Stricken, poor, unfortunate A person with a physical disability or condition
Handicapped (parking, bathroom, entrance) Accessible parking, accessible bathroom, accessible entrance

Here are some more links to explore about use of language and etiquette preferred by those with disabilities

Disability language:

Disability etiquette:

International language guidelines:

More appropriate disability language:

Talking to kids about disability: