Challenging Words and Labels: How Should We Refer to Disability?

Psychology Benefits Society

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By Dana S. Dunn, PhD (Professor of Psychology and Assistant Dean for Special Projects, Moravian College)

How should we talk about disability, especially perhaps, people with disabilities? Is saying “the disabled” or “disabled people” ok? Are there right and wrong ways to talk or write about disability?

The American Psychological Association (APA) advocates that when referring to disability, it’s best to put the person first. That is, instead of saying “disabled person,” choose “person with a disability.” The reasoning for the use of person-first language is this: Constructions like “disabled person” or “amputee” emphasize a condition over the person who is affected by it. Saying “person with a disability” or “individual with an amputation” focuses attention on the person and not the condition.

Similar to many of APA’s language recommendations (found in its Publication Manual), the goal is to avoid using deleterious or pejorative labels that can…

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