End the Awkward: talking about disability

Many people find it difficult to talk about disability and struggle with what to say. Follow our tips and you can't go wrong.

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Talking about disability

Here’s some tips to help you feel more confident talking about disability. 


What not to do

“What do I call you?”

Every disabled person talks about their disability in a different way. Get to know them and you’ll find out their preference. If you really need to know about their disability, the best way to ask is probably “how should I refer to your impairment?”.

Saying “let’s go for a walk” to a wheelchair user 

Okay, so it’s a bit embarrassing, but it’s not the end of the world. Slips of the tongue happen all the time, so apologise or laugh it off, but don’t go too over the top. It’s rare for a wheelchair user to say “let’s go for a wheel around the park”.  

“You’re so brave/inspiring/brilliant”

Disabled people do sometimes face barriers getting out and about, but be cool - wheeling out the “you’re so brave!” line is a bit patronising. Loads of disabled people lead really active lives. 

Words to use when talking about disability

There are some words that many disabled people find hurtful or harsh because they:

  • suggest disabled people are helpless

  • are pitying

  • are often used abusively.

Some disabled people may use controversial language when talking about themselves. That’s their choice, but it doesn’t mean they’d be happy for you to use it.

Here are some tips on language that’s largely preferred: 

You could say You should avoid
Disabled person,
person with a disability
Cripple, the disabled, victim, sufferer
Deaf person, hard of hearing person The deaf
Blind person, visually impaired person The blind
Person with restricted growth,
Person of shorter stature
Person with a learning disability Retard, slow, simple
Person with Down syndrome Retard, slow, simple
Person with a mental health problem Mental patient, psycho, schizo
A wheelchair user Wheelchair-bound, confined to a wheelchair


Find out more about End the Awkward