Skip to main content

A guide to talking about disability

The language of disability is always evolving and different terms are used within and outside of Australia. It can be political, it can be personal, and it can be quite confusing. Here are a few tips to help you on your way.

Important things to remember:

  • Avoid stereotypical or stigmatising depiction of people with disability
  • Avoid phrases and words that demean individuals with disability
  • Promote the ‘people first’ concept
  • People with disability are not 'suffering from', 'victims of' or 'afflicted by' their disability. 
  • People with disability are not overcoming their disability, but the barriers that the rest of society puts in front of them.
  • People with disability should not be portrayed as courageous or tortured, but rather as individuals who find alternative means to accomplish everyday activities.

Disability, not disabled

AAV uses and recommends as best practice the use of the term 'people with disability'. Other terms commonly used in Australia include: ‘people living with disability’ and ‘people with lived experience of disability’.

This is because we use the word ‘disability’ in its social model context, which means that someone has been disabled by social barriers and/or discrimination, not by their disability.

When should I capitalise deaf?

A capital D is used to indicate that the subject or audience identifies with Deaf culture. Lowercase ‘d’ is used when speaking about a person’s ability to hear.

When writing about topics around Deaf culture, use ‘Deaf’. When writing generally, or referring to both people who are Deaf and people who are hard of hearing, use ‘deaf or hard of hearing’.

Dos and Donts

Wording we recommend

Wording we don’t recommend   

  • People/person with disability (preferred)
  • Person with a disability
  • People with disabilities
  • Differently abled / diffabilty
  • Handicapped
  • Physically challenged
  • Someone who can’t [hear, speak, walk, etc]
  • People/person without disability /non-disabled person
  • Able-bodied
  • Normal
  • Wheelchair user
  • Wheelchair bound
  • Bound/confined to a wheelchair
  • Person who is blind
  • Person with low vision
  • Person with vision impairment
  • The Blind
  • Person without sight
  • Person who is Deaf/deaf
  • Auslan user
  • Hard of hearing
  • The Deaf
  • Deaf and dumb
  • Mute
  • Intellectual disability
  • Learning disability
  • Retard/ed
  • Slow learner
  • Person of short stature
  • Midget
  • Dwarf
  • Mental health issues/condition
  • Person with mental illness
  • Person with lived experience of mental illness
  • Mental health problems
  • Mental
  • Mentally-ill
  • Accessible toilet
  • Adapted toilet
  • Disabled toilet
  • Accessible parking
  • Disabled parking
  • Has
  • Experiences
  • Lives with
  • Suffers from
  • Afflicted with
  • Do you have any access requirements?
  • Do you have a disability?



ADAPT: training for arts organisations
Living Art
Beyond Access case studies