A-Z Index

People First Language

Use People First Language in all University communications whether oral or written, formal or informal.

The examples below provide guidance on what terms to use and what terms and constructions to avoid when talking or writing about people with disabilities. It is not a comprehensive list. For an excellent, detailed description of People First Language, go to

When in doubt about how to refer to a person diagnosed with a certain condition or physical or mental challenge, remember that People First Language is just that. Put the person first and the condition or diagnosis second.

Also, be specific. State the diagnosis. Do not imply that the condition is in any way an intrinsic part of someone's personality or character.

Here's an example of what not to write or say:

"Northwest has installed specially textured wheelchair ramps on all curbs and sidewalks so that blind people can feel them with their canes."

The phrase "blind people" not only makes the condition more important than the person; it implies that the condition is an intrinsic part of what makes these people human beings in the first place.

Here is the same statement recast in People First Language:

"Northwest has installed specially textured wheelchair ramps on all curbs and sidewalks so that people who use canes because of a visual impairment can walk safely across the campus."

Note that using PFL (acceptable on second reference) does not mean one has to resort to jargon or employ euphemisms. On the contrary, communicating in this manner emphasizes the very tools that every careful writer and speaker should master: precision, accuracy and a keen sense of humanity.

Here are some more examples:


  • People/individuals with disabilities instead of the handicapped.
  • An adult who has a disability instead of the disabled.
  • A child with a disability.
  • A person.
  • People/individuals without disabilities instead of normal people/healthy individuals.
  • Typical kids instead of atypical kids.
  • People with mental retardation instead of the mentally retarded; retarded people.
  • He/she has a cognitive impairment instead of he/she is retarded; the retarded.
  • A person who has Down syndrome instead of he/she's a Downs kid. NEVER use the words Mongoloid or Mongol to describe this condition.
  • A person who has autism instead of the autistic.
  • People with a mental illness instead of the mentally ill; the emotionally disturbed.
  • A person who has an emotional disability instead of is insane; crazy; demented; psycho.
  • With a psychiatric illness/disability instead of a maniac; lunatic.
  • A person who has a learning disability instead of he/she is learning disabled.
  • A person who is deaf instead of the deaf.
  • He/she has a hearing impairment/loss.
  • A man/woman who is hard of hearing.
  • Person who is deaf and cannot speak.
  • Who has a speech disorder instead of mute.
  • Uses a communication device.
  • Uses synthetic speech.
  • A person who is blind instead of the blind.
  • A person who has a visual impairment.
  • Man/woman who has low vision.
  • A person who has epilepsy instead of an epileptic.
  • People with a seizure disorder instead of a victim of epilepsy.
  • A person who uses a wheelchair instead of a person who is wheelchair bound.
  • A person who uses a wheelchair instead of a person who is confined to a wheelchair.
  • A person who walks with crutches instead of a cripple.
  • A person who has quadriplegia instead of a quadriplegic.
  • People with paraplegia instead of the paraplegic.
  • He/she is of small or short stature instead of a dwarf or midget.
  • He/she has a congenital disability instead of he/she has a birth defect.
  • Accessible buses, bathrooms, etc. instead of handicapped buses, bathrooms, hotel rooms, etc.
  • Reserved parking for people with disabilities instead of handicapped parking.