Appropriate Terms to Use

While there are varying preferences regarding disability terminology, there are some terms which should never be used as they are not respectful of disabled people. The below is not an exhaustive list, but is meant to provide some practical guidance and explanation for terms no longer in use and the recommended alternative

  • Table 1: Terms no longer in use and suggested alternative terms  


    Term no longer in use




    Recommended alternative term


    The disabled

    Catch-all phrases such as 'the blind', 'the deaf' or   'the disabled, do not reflect the individuality, equality or dignity of   people with disabilities.

    Disabled people/people with disabilities

    Wheelchair-bound;   confined to a wheelchair

    Wheelchairs offer mobility, freedom and independence.   Using negative language perpetuates harmful negative stereotypes.

    Wheelchair user / person who uses a wheelchair

    Cripple;   spastic

    These terms are stigmatising.

    Disabled person/person with a disability

    The handicapped

    This is a stigmatising term.

    Disabled person, person with a disability

    Mental handicap

    This is a stigmatising term.

    Intellectual disability

    In the UK, the term ‘learning disability’ is commonly   used.

    Normal /   normally developing

    Using this term to refer to non-disabled people   implies that being disabled is abnormal.

    Non-disabled person

    High   functioning / low functioning

    These terms are often used with regard to autism.   Simplifying autism into two categories can perpetuate negative and untrue   stereotypes.

    Autistic people each have their own strengths and   weaknesses. Some may require more support in some areas of their development   than others.[1]

    Autism Spectrum   Disorder

    Autism Spectrum Disorder is offensive to many in the   autism community as it implies there is something wrong with autistic people.


    Autism Spectrum   Disorder (ASD) Unit (as used in education settings)

    ‘Unit’ is a medical term which should not be applied to a   classroom setting.

    Autism class

    Schizo; mad

    These are stigmatising terms.

    Person with a mental health disability/difficulty

    Suffers from   (e.g. asthma)

    This is a negative term.

    Has (e.g. asthma)


    This identifies someone in terms of their medical   diagnosis.

    Has epilepsy


    This is a stigmatising term which places an individual   in a passive role as an object of pity.

    Disabled person / person with a disability


    This is a euphemistic term and can be patronising.

    Disabled person / person with a disability

    Special in an   education context e.g. special school, special class

    This is a euphemistic term and can be patronising and is   no longer preferred language. However, we recognise that it is used in   legislation e.g. the EPSEN Act and that it will be examined as part of the   review of that Act.

    There is currently no consensus regarding an   alternative for the word 'special’. Some people use the word ‘additional’ e.g   additional needs but from an inclusive education perspective all children   have individualised needs and no one’s needs are ‘additional’.

    Hearing   impaired

    Deaf people are proud of their identity as a cultural   and linguistic group and do not see it as an impairment.

    Deaf / hard of hearing

    Partially Deaf   / partially hearing

    The terms deaf/Deaf can include people with some or no   hearing.

    Deaf / hard of hearing

    Signed English

    Irish Sign Language is not English. It is a separate   visual and spatial language with its own linguistic and grammatical   structure.

    Irish Sign Language or abbreviate to ISL

    Shortening   Irish Sign Language to “sign language”

    There are many different sign languages around the   world which are distinct from each other. If referring to Irish Sign Language,   it’s important to name it in full.

    Refer to Irish Sign Language in full or abbreviate to   ISL.


    Some disabled people hire a Personal Assistant to   assist them to live independently. Using terms such as ‘helper’ places the   disabled person in a passive role and also devalues the work of Personal   Assistants.

    Personal Assistant

    Below are some commonly used terms which are in use but which may require explanation (Table 2).

    Table 2: Meaning of common terms    




    Meaning / use



    The term impairment is appropriate in some contexts but   not in others. It is used by some to describe a medical condition or level of   functioning, while ‘disability’ describes the social experience of having an   impairment.

    The Deaf community do not use the term ‘impairment.’


    Neurodiversity includes autism and other groups such   as those with ADHD and Dyspraxia,   which present with similar accommodation needs to autism.


    “Deafblind” is a combined   vision and hearing disability and the term is used as an umbrella term which   includes people who also may have some residual vision and/or hearing.

    Disabled   Persons Organisation (DPO)

    A Disabled Persons Organisation (DPO) is a particular   kind of civil society organisation which is distinct from a Non-Governmental   Organisation (NGO) or a disability service provider. UNCRPD outlines specific   criteria in order for an organisation to be considered a DPO. DPOs are   organisations led by disabled people themselves, and with a clear majority of   their membership made up of disabled people, and which are underpinned by a   human rights approach to disability. Organisations which work on disability issues   or provide disability services which are not led by persons with disabilities   are not considered a DPO.

    Representative   organisation

    When the term “representative organisation” is used in   CRPD it is used to refer to a DPO only, rather than an organisation providing services, or an organisation   comprising a majority of non-disabled persons advocating for people with   disabilities.