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People First Language

Usage Guidelines

 
The People First Respectful Language Modernization Act of 2006 was enacted by the Council of the District of Columba on July 11, 2006 to “require the use of respectful language when referring to people with disabilities in all new and revised District laws, regulations, rules, and publications and all internet publications.”1

“People First Language” (PFL) puts the person before the disability, and describes what a person has, not who a person is. PFL uses phrases such as “person with a disability,” “individuals with disabilities,” and “children with disabilities,” as opposed to phrases that identify people based solely on their disability, such as “the disabled.”

The phrase “mental retardation” is offensive and outdated.  The terms “developmental disability,” “cognitive disability,” or “intellectual disability” may be substituted as more respectful options.

 
The following table gives examples, in alphabetical order, of ways to substitute PFL for outdated and/or offensive terminology.
 
 

Outdated term:

Replace with:

A

“afflicted with disability”

"autistic"

“has autism”

“has autism”

C

“crippled”

“has a disability”

D

 
“the disabled”

“disabled adults”

“disabled people”

“disabled children”

“disabled voters”

Etc.
 
“people with disabilities”
 
“adults with disabilities”

“people with disabilities”

“children with disabilities”

“voters with disabilities”

Etc.
F

“feebleminded”

“has a cognitive disability”

H
"a handicap”

“the handicapped”

“handicapped buses”

“handicapped bathrooms”

“handicapped parking”

“handicapped buses”

“handicapped bathrooms”

“handicapped parking”

Etc.
 
“a disability”

“a disability”

“accessible buses”

“accessible bathrooms”

“accessible parking”
 
OR

“buses accessible to people with disabilities”

“bathrooms accessible to people with disabilities”

“parking accessible to people with disabilities”

Etc.
 
I
“the insane”

“insane person”

“insane adult”

“insanity”

“imbecile”

“invalid”
 
“people with a mental health conditions”

“person with a mental health condition"

“adult with a mental health condition”

“mental health condition”

“person with a disability”

“person with a cognitive disability”

“people with a disability”
 
M

"maimed"

“the mentally ill”

“mentally ill person”

“mentally ill adult”

Etc.

"moron"

 
“person with a mental health condition”
 
“person with a mental health condition”
 
“person with a mental health condition”

“adult with a mental health condition”

Etc.

“person with a disability”

“person with a developmental disability”

“person with a cognitive disability”
 
L

“learning disabled”

“lunatic”

“has a learning disability"

“person with a mental health condition”

S

“suffering from disability”

“has a disability”

W

“wheelchair user” or
“wheelchair bound”

“person who uses a wheelchair/mobility chair”

1 People First Respectful Language Modernization Act of 2006, page 1, lines 15-16

* Multiple examples taken from “People First Language” by Kathie Snow, 2005, available at http://www.disabilityisnatural.com.

Fact Sheet Prepared July 2006, by The Arc of the District of Columbia.

For more information, contact:

T.J. Sutcliffe, Director of Advocacy & Public Policy
817 Varnum Street, NE
Washington, DC 20017
Phone: (202) 636-2963
Fax: (202) 529-1852