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Correct and Preferred Usage

Roxanne K. Young

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According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (, “a disability exists when an individual has any physical or psychological illness that ‘substantially limits’ a major life activity, such as walking, learning, breathing, working, or participating in community activities.”21

Avoid labeling (and thus equating) people with their disabilities or diseases (eg, the blind, schizophrenics, epileptics). Instead, put the person first. Avoid describing persons as victims or with other emotional terms that suggest helplessness (afflicted with, suffering from, stricken with, maimed). Avoid euphemistic descriptors such as physically challenged or special.



the disabled, the handicapped

persons with a disability

disabled child, mentally ill person, retarded person

child with a disability, person with mental illness, person with intellectual disability, person with intellectual disability (mental retardation)


persons with diabetes, study participants in the diabetes group, diabetic patients


children with asthma, asthma group, asthmatic child


person affected by epilepsy, person with epilepsy, epileptic patient

AIDS victim, stroke victim

person with AIDS, person who has had a stroke

crippled, lame, deformed

physically disabled

the deaf

deaf persons, deaf adults, deaf culture or community

confined (bound) to a wheelchair

uses a wheelchair

Avoid metaphors that may be inappropriate and insensitive (blind to the truth, deaf to the request). For similar reasons, some publications avoid the term double-blind when referring to a study’s methodology.

Note: Some manuscripts use certain phrases many times, and changing, for example, “AIDS patients” to “persons with AIDS” at every occurrence may result in awkward and stilted text. In such cases, the adjectival form may be used.

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