People First Language

Examples of People First Language

Labels Not to Use


  • The handicapped or disabled
  • Handicapped parking, bathrooms, etc.
  • He’s a diabetic
  • He’s a dwarf (or midget)
  • He’s in special ed
  • He’s learning disabled
  • He’s retarded
  • He’s wheelchair bound, or confined to a wheelchair
  • I’m a paraplegic
  • The mentally retarded
  • My son is autistic
  • Normal and/or healthy kids
  • She has a problem with…
  • She’s crippled
  • She’s a Downs kid, a mongoloid
  • She’s emotionally disturbed
  • She’s an epileptic

People First Language


  • Accessible parking, bathrooms, etc.
  • He has a cognitive disability
  • He has diabetes
  • He has a learning disability
  • He receives special ed services or additional support services
  • He uses a wheelchair
  • He’s of short stature, or he’s short
  • I have paraplegia
  • My son has autism
  • People with disabilities
  • People with mental retardation
  • She has Down syndrome
  • She has an emotional disability
  • She has epilepsy
  • She has a need for…
  • She has a physical disability
  • Typical kids or kids without disabilities
Keep thinking. There are lots more examples out there. And practice, practice, practice. Old habits die hard!

People first language puts the person before the disability.

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightening and the lightening bug.
- Mark Twain


Who Are People With Disabilities?


Historical and current myths tell us they are:
  • People who suffer from the tragedy of birth defects.
  • Paraplegic heroes who struggle to become normal again.
  • Victims of diseases fighting to regain their previous lives.
  • Categorically the crippled, the retarded, the autistic, the blind, the deaf, and the learning disabled.

Who Are They Really?


Neighbors, friends, employees, students, leaders, movie stars, followers, teachers, moms, dads, sons, daughters, beauty pageant winners, they are.......people. They are people.
  • Are you myopic or do you wear glasses?
  • Are you cancerous or do you have cancer?
  • Are you freckled or do you have freckles?
  • Are you handicapped/disabled or do you have a disability?
People first language says what a person has not what a person is. They are people first; disabilities second.

Written by Kathie Snow. Email Kathie Snow

View and/or print the People First Language page (PDF).