[WATS.ca Archived]

March 12, 2013

Words With Dignity


Back in the early 2000′s, my colleague and friend Derek Featherstone and I launched a joint consultancy group in Ottawa, Canada that focused on the issues of on-line accessibility, and the emergent techniques and requirements of this (at the time) new aspect of web development. Derek and I wrapped up WATS.ca somewhere around 2006 as we moved on to other projects, but we both remain active in the field today.

We jointly published a number of articles on our web-site that often became go-to references then, and it seems a shame that they be lost to the vagaries of time; the original site long since gone. I have created an Archive section of this site to preserve those postings, and the following article from that time is one such. Please note that some of the information in this or other similar articles may be dated, or superseded by events in time: I am making no attempt to update these articles and am simply posting them as they existed when they were first written.

Often, web developers and others responsible for producing accessible web content are at a loss to describe the various forms of disability their users may be dealing with.

While we always want to avoid labeling any person by their specific disability, we must also recognize the various disabilities people deal with on a daily basis. Using the correct terms eases discussing the needs of these specific users.

Remember, appropriate terminology changes with the times. If in doubt, ask. Most people with a disability will be more than willing to help you. (Pro-Tip: always focus on the person first and not their disability.)

Instead of… Use:
Disabled, handicapped, crippled Person(s) with a disability
Crippled by, afflicted with, suffering from, victim of, deformed Person who has… or,
Person with…
Lame Person who is mobility impaired
Confined, bound, restricted to or dependent on a wheelchair Person who uses a wheelchair
Deaf and dumb, deaf mute, hearing impaired Person who is Deaf, hard of hearing
Retarded, mentally retarded Person with a developmental disability
Spastic (as a noun) Person with Cerebral Palsy
Physically challenged Person with a physical disability
Mental patient, mentally ill, mental, insane Person with a mental illness,
Person who has schizophrenia,
Person who has…
Learning disabled, learning difficulty Person with a learning disability
Visually impaired (as a collective noun) Persons who are visually impaired, blind
Disabled sport Sport for athletes with disabilities
Disabled person/people Disabled community

© Active Living Alliance. Reprinted with permission.

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 Words With Dignity by John Foliot is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Posted by John

I am a 16 year veteran of Web Accessibility, living and working in Austin, Texas. Currently Principal Accessibility Strategist at Deque Systems Inc., I have previously held accessibility related positions at JPMorgan Chase and Stanford University. I am also actively involved with the W3C - the international internet standards body - where I attempt to stir the pot, fight hard for accessibility on the web, and am currently co-chairing a subcommittee on the accessibility of media elements in HTML5.

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