Inclusive Language for Talking About People With Intellectual Disabilities (2023)

Words can open doors to cultivate the understanding and respect that enable people with intellectual disabilities to lead fuller, more independent lives.

The words we use can also create barriers or stereotypes that are not only demeaning to people with disabilities, but also rob them of their individuality. That’s because words have the power to hurt people with intellectual disabilities, and further isolate them from society. The language we choose to use plays a significant role in helping to create a more inclusive world.

(Video) Changing how we talk about disabilities

The recent global conversation on discrimination has shined a light on how each of us can advance inclusion through our words and actions. The following tips have been developed by experts for anyone writing or speaking about people with intellectual disabilities, to ensure that all people are portrayed with dignity.

Examples of Inclusive Language for People With Disabilities

(Video) Why inclusive language is so important! | Personal Politics | Episode 04

Special Olympics prefers to focus on people—and to dispel negative attitudes—by using “people-first language” that sees the individual, their gifts, and their accomplishments rather than a diagnosis. Here are a few guidelines for intellectual disability terminology, bearing in mind that language and conventions are always evolving. Special Olympics will keep evolving, too, to use inclusive language that best supports the dignity of our athletes and their preferences.

  1. Use “intellectual disability,” which replaced “mental retardation” in U.S. federal law in 2010. Refer to individuals, persons, or people with intellectual disabilities, rather than “intellectually disabled people” or “the intellectually disabled.”
  2. Similarly, say that a person has intellectual disabilities, rather than is “suffering from,” is “afflicted with,” or is “a victim of” intellectual disabilities.
  3. Do not use the terms “retardation,” “retarded,” “retard,” etc. These R-words have become hurtful slurs toward people with intellectual disabilities. Using the R-word is the same as using any slur against a minority group.
  4. Use “Down syndrome,” which has replaced “Down’s Syndrome” and “mongoloid.”
  5. Distinguish between adults and children with intellectual disabilities, as well as older or younger athletes.
  6. If relevant, say that a person “uses” a wheelchair, rather than is “confined to” or “restricted to” a wheelchair, or "wheelchair-bound."
  7. Use the word “special” with extreme care when talking about persons with intellectual disabilities. The term, if used excessively in references to Special Olympics athletes and activities, can become a cliché.
  8. Do not use the adjective “unfortunate” when talking about people with an intellectual disability. Disabling conditions do not have to be life-defining in a negative way.
  9. Do not sensationalize the accomplishments of people with disabilities. While these accomplishments should be recognized and applauded, the disability rights movement has tried to make the public aware of the negative impact of referring to the achievements of people with physical or intellectual disabilities with excessive hyperbole.
  10. Above all, if you are uncertain what terminology to use, try asking a person with a disability! Inclusion is about recognizing the humanity that connects all of us. Starting a conversation is the first step.

(Video) Changing The Way We Talk About Disability | Amy Oulton | TEDxBrighton

Person First Language

(Video) The hidden power of inclusive language | Dr. Suzanne Wertheim | TEDxSantaBarbaraSalon

(Video) Inclusive Language | Camelia Bui | TEDxYouth@SSIS

More Resources on Inclusive Language for People With Intellectual Disabilities

(Video) 2.3 Disability Employment Basics - Using inclusive language


What is disability inclusive language examples? ›

For example, we can use expressions such as “children with albinism”, “students with dyslexia”, “women with intellectual disabilities” and, of course, “persons with disabilities”. However, the people-first rule does not necessarily apply to all types of disabilities.

What is the appropriate language to describe a person with a disability? ›

Rather than using terms such as disabled person, handicapped people, a crippled person, use terms such as people/persons with disabilities, a person with a disability, or a person with a visual impairment.

How do you talk about disability inclusion? ›

Always focus on the person, not the disability. Mention the disability only if it is directly relevant to the context in which you are speaking. Ask the person how they prefer to be described with regards the disability or medical issue. They may use a different term to what is considered inclusive language.

What is inclusive language and perspective on disability? ›

Using inclusive language for disabilities is a means to discuss or speak to any person with disabilities in a way that respects their personhood. It is about using respectful terminology and addressing a person in a way that puts them first and focuses on their participation in life and society.

What are 3 examples of inclusive language? ›

Examples of Inclusive Language

Using gendered language only when necessary, and always asking for preferred pronouns and using them. Not referencing age unless absolutely necessary. Changing the focus from disability to accessibility.

What are some examples of inclusive language words? ›

Some examples of inclusive language are:
  • Introducing yourself with your pronouns e.g. I am x, the pronouns I use are she/her, him/he or they.
  • Avoiding terms like “guys” for everyone and using gender neutral terms staff members, folks, volunteers, visitors or members.
Mar 1, 2020

What language is used to talk about disabilities? ›

It's okay to ask. If that isn't possible, use person-first language or refer to a person by their name. PWDA, government, and non-government institutions predominantly use person-first language when referring to people with disability. This is to avoid unnecessary focus on a person's impairment.

Why is language important when talking about disability? ›

The language we use can reinforce negative stereotypes, or it can challenge them. We may sometimes, however inadvertently and unintentionally, cause offence and reinforce stereotypes, which perpetuates discrimination.

How do you create an inclusive culture for disability? ›

5 tips to create a disability-inclusive workplace
  1. Tip #1: Learn more about the specific disability, disability etiquette, or disability inclusion in general. ...
  2. Tip #2: Rearrange your office space and consider accommodations. ...
  3. Tip #3: Keep an open dialogue. ...
  4. Tip #4: Break the ice! ...
  5. Tip #5: Maintain standards.

How can you promote disability inclusive practices? ›

Consider joining national business and disability networks or employers' federations – peer support is very helpful. Disability awareness training makes employees more confident about communicating with disabled people – and your working environment more welcoming as a result.

What is an example of disability inclusive development? ›

This includes ensuring all programs and their benefits are accessible for people with disabilities at all stages, from planning through implementation to monitoring and evaluation. Examples of such programs include disaster risk reduction strategies, water and sanitation programs, or climate change adaptation.

What is considered inclusive language? ›

Inclusive Language Definition

The Guidelines for Inclusive Language, published by the Linguistic Society of America (LSA), open_in_new define inclusive language as language that “acknowledges diversity, conveys respect to all people, is sensitive to differences, and promotes equal opportunities.”

What is an inclusive culture for people with disabilities? ›

An inclusive culture provides equal access to growth opportunities. Employees with disabilities want professional development opportunities, just like anyone else. This includes conferences and trainings, as well as being sponsored for mentoring programs.

What is the explanation of inclusive language? ›

Inclusive language is not about impinging on free speech or political correctness; it is about communicating in a way that is accessible and respectful and values, includes and empowers all members of your audience. Language is dynamic and fluid and the meaning and connotations of words can change rapidly.

What is an example of an inclusion message? ›

We are committed to equal employment opportunity regardless of race, color, ancestry, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, age, citizenship, marital status, disability, gender identity or Veteran status.

What are the 3 C's of inclusive? ›

The 3 Cs Inclusive Practices Model – Culture, Collaboration, and Coaching.

How do you use inclusive language in a sentence? ›

He was opposed to the use of inclusive language in liturgy. Using 'inclusive' language is therefore redundant at best. They could have reflected in their demeanour the uplifting and inclusive language of their manifesto.

What are the four uses of inclusive language? ›

And when it comes to Inclusive Language, we recommend you use all four of our guideline categories: respectful language, gender-neutral language, person-first language, and writing conventions.

What is a more inclusive way to say disability? ›

Differently-abled, Special, Gifted Use “person with disability” or “disabled person” instead. Terms like “differently-abled,” although well-meaning, can be received as “condescending, offensive or simply a way of avoiding talking about disability” [NCDJ].

Which first language is a way to emphasize the individual over the disability? ›

Person first language emphasizes the person before the disability, for example “person who is blind” or “people with spinal cord injuries.” Identity first language puts the disability first in the description, e.g., “disabled” or “autistic." Person first or identify first language is equally appropriate depending on ...

Why is it important to use people first language when addressing a person with a disability? ›

Placing the person first and the disability second helps eliminate stereotypes that can form, and it emphasizes the individuality, equality, and dignity of these individuals. Sentences that include terms like "the disabled" neglect the human aspect of a person's disability.

What are the two different approaches to talking about disability? ›

Person-First vs.

Person-first language puts the person before the disability (i.e. person who has cerebral palsy). Identity-first language puts the disability before the person (i.e. autistic woman).

What are some examples of culturally inclusive practice? ›

For example, some classroom practices may include: providing students with opportunities to share stories of their life, showing students everyday photos of people from different ethnicities making a positive impact when opportunities are presented during instruction, welcoming guest speakers making positive ...

What are the four ways to create an inclusive culture? ›

4 ways leaders can build an inclusive culture
  • Establish 'psychological safety' Team members should feel as though they can share their thoughts and opinions freely, so everyone feels heard and all ideas are on the table, not just those of a select few. ...
  • Discourage 'groupthink' ...
  • Encourage 'servant behaviour' ...
  • Be honest.

How can you promote positive approach towards people with disabilities? ›

Displaying empathy, patience and positivity towards disability of any form promotes inclusion and openness for the affected individual.

How do you promote inclusive behavior? ›

13 consciously inclusive behaviors to foster in the workplace
  1. Set expectations and actions. ...
  2. Accept a wide variety of viewpoints. ...
  3. Instill a sense of mutual responsibility with agile frameworks. ...
  4. Talk about what is right and what is not. ...
  5. Address inequalities through open and honest dialogue.
Dec 14, 2021

What is inclusion with respect to disability? ›

Inclusion, in relation to persons with disabilities, is defined as including individuals with disabilities in everyday activities and ensuring they have access to resources and opportunities in ways that are similar to their non-disabled peers.

What are examples of inclusive development? ›

These include sustainable water, energy, digital, and transport infrastructure, care sectors, the rural economy, and education and training.

What are some examples of community inclusion of persons with disabilities? ›

Examples of inclusion are when students with disabilities are educated in the exact schools they would've attended if they didn't have disabilities; or when adults with disabilities fully participate in an employment environment and are engaged as community members.

What is the best practice inclusive language? ›

1) Don't mention a person's gender, ethnicity etc. unless it is relevant. 2) Be gender neutral whenever you aren't speaking about a specific individual. Use they/them instead of she/her or he/him and use terms like chair and humanity instead of chairman and mankind.

How do you interact with individuals in an inclusive way? ›

  1. 7 Ways to Be More Inclusive in Your Everyday Life. ...
  2. 1 / Mindful communication: listen more, talk carefully. ...
  3. 2 / Challenge stereotypes. ...
  4. 3 / Avoid assumptions. ...
  5. 4 / Ask yourself and others (the right) questions. ...
  6. 5 / Be aware of your privileges. ...
  7. 6 / Be proactive in educating yourself on the topic.

Why is it important to use inclusive language? ›

Inclusive language enables everyone in your organisation to feel valued and respected and able to contribute their talents to drive organisational performance. Speech is a form of action. Whether we like it or not, our words have consequences. They can include or exclude, even if we do not intend them to.

What is an example of disability first language? ›

Person first language emphasizes the person before the disability, for example “person who is blind” or “people with spinal cord injuries.” Identity first language puts the disability first in the description, e.g., “disabled” or “autistic." Person first or identify first language is equally appropriate depending on ...

What are examples of disability in communication? ›

  • Hearing disorders and deafness.
  • Voice problems, such as dysphonia or those caused by cleft lip or palate.
  • Speech problems like stuttering.
  • Developmental disabilities.
  • Learning disabilities.
  • Autism spectrum disorder.
  • Brain injury.
  • Stroke.
May 5, 2021

What does disability inclusive mean? ›

Disability-inclusive development means that all stages of development processes are inclusive of and accessible to persons with disabilities. It requires that all persons be afforded equal access to education, health care services, work and employment, and social protection, among others.

How to create an inclusive environment for people with disabilities? ›

5 steps to build an inclusive workplace for people with disabilities
  1. Step #1: Implement company-wide training. ...
  2. Step #2: Build a sourcing and retention plan. ...
  3. Step #3: Provide supports for employees with disabilities. ...
  4. Step #4: Communicate your disability inclusion plan internally. ...
  5. Step #5: Measure your return on investment.

What are inclusive strategies for people with disabilities? ›

The strategy is based on three over-arching approaches to achieve disability inclusion:
  • Twin-Track Approach. Disability is a cross-cutting issue and should be considered in all our work – this is the first track. ...
  • Intersectionality. Factors such as gender, age and location inform an individual's experience. ...
  • Coordination.

Why using people-first language is important in addressing persons with disability? ›

Placing the person first and the disability second helps eliminate stereotypes that can form, and it emphasizes the individuality, equality, and dignity of these individuals. Sentences that include terms like "the disabled" neglect the human aspect of a person's disability.

Why do we use people-first language when addressing an individual with a disability? ›

Person-first language (e.g., “person with a disability”) is largely considered the default or most respectful terminology to use, as it puts the person first before their disability; it is a way to separate someone's diagnosis from their personhood.

How to communicate with someone with intellectual disability? ›

10 Tips for Working With People With Intellectual Disabilities
  • Do not call them kids. ...
  • Use clear, simplified language and try speaking slower, not louder. ...
  • Set expectations. ...
  • Treat them as you would your peers. ...
  • Draw boundaries. ...
  • Ask them their thoughts and allow them to answer.

What are the communication methods in intellectual disability? ›

Communication styles vary among individuals with an intellectual disability. Some may have verbal language, some sign language and others use non-verbal communication styles such as gestures, vocalisations or even eye movements.

What is an example of how you can communicate with a person with an intellectual disability? ›

Speak in clear, short sentences and use simple words. Pause to enable the person to process what you are saying. Avoid long, complex sentences, technical words or jargon. Ask one question at a time and provide adequate time for the person to process the question and then formulate and communicate their response.


1. The hidden power of inclusive language | Dr. Suzanne Wertheim | TEDxSantaBarbaraSalon
(TEDx Talks)
2. Conscious Roots TV Episode 6 - How to Use Disability-Based Inclusive Language
(Conscious Roots)
3. The Importance of Inclusive Language with Jackie Ferguson
(The Diversity Movement)
4. Webinar on autistic people's experiences of violence
(European Council of Autistic People)
5. Let's Talk About Intellectual Disabilities: Loretta Claiborne at TEDxMidAtlantic
(TEDx Talks)
6. Inclusive Language
(Virtual High School)


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