Disability and inclusion language

Our guide to writing about disability and inclusion is based on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

A group photo of people involved in the Ghana Somubi Dwumadie programme.

At Sightsavers, we take a rights-based approach to disability and inclusion.

This means we:

  • Encourage the people we work with to understand and claim their rights
  • Increase the ability and accountability of individuals and institutions responsible for upholding rights

A rights-based approach focuses on people who are excluded or discriminated against. It often involves examining gender norms, different forms of discrimination and power imbalances.

Our disability and inclusion language has its roots in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

This is the reason we mainly use the term ‘people with disabilities’ in a lot of our communications. We also use the term ‘disabled people’ and some of our contributors and audiences prefer this.

Always respect the dignity, agency and wishes of the people you write about and refer to them in the way they choose. This is more important than applying house style or being consistent.

Enoch, who uses a wheelchair, smiles and waves at the camera.

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We promote equal opportunities for people with visual impairments and other disabilities.

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Language to use

It is important we differentiate between impairment and disability. Impairment is the injury, illness or condition that can cause a loss or difference of function. Disability refers to the loss of opportunities to take part in society because of social and environmental barriers.


  • People with disabilities/person with a disability (disabled people/person). In most cases use ‘people with disabilities/person with a disability’. It’s fine to use ‘disabled people’ where that is the preferred term for a specific audience. In quotes stick to what the person has said. Don’t alternate between the two terms in the same document or piece of content
  • Person/people with [name of impairment]
  • People without disabilities/person without a disability
  • Persons with disabilities. Global organisations including the UN and the World Health Organization use this term. But it’s jarring for people who don’t work in the development sector. If your audience isn’t familiar with the term, use ‘people’ instead of ‘persons’, except where it’s part of a title or quote

Sensory impairments

  • Person with a sensory impairment
  • Blind person
  • Partially sighted person
  • Person with low vision
  • Person with visual impairment
  • Deaf/deaf person. There is a strong Deaf community with its own culture and sense of identity, based on a shared language. When referring to a person or people who identify as part of this community, cap up the D in Deaf. If in doubt, write ‘d/Deaf’
  • Person with hearing loss
  • Person who is hard of hearing
  • Person who is deafblind

Physical impairments

  • Person with a physical impairment
  • Person who has a spinal cord injury
  • Person who is a wheelchair user/person who uses a wheelchair
  • Person with cerebral palsy
  • Person with restricted growth/short stature/dwarfism/little person (check and use the person’s preferred terminology)

Cognitive/neurological impairments

  • Person with a cognitive impairment
  • Person with dementia/Alzheimer’s. Dementia is not a mental illness. But it affects memory, attention, orientation and other areas of cognitive functioning
  • People with neurological impairments
  • Person with epilepsy

Intellectual impairments/disabilities

  • Person with an intellectual disability. In the CRPD this term refers to impairments in intellectual functioning and adaptive behaviour. Intellectual functioning can include learning, reasoning and problem solving. Adaptive behaviour can include language and literacy skills, social skills and practical skills
  • Person with Down syndrome
  • Person with a learning disability. ‘Learning disability’ refers to conditions such as dyslexia and dyspraxia. In the UK, ‘learning disability’ is often used instead of ‘intellectual disability’
  • Person with learning difficulties. ‘Learning difficulties’ refers to conditions such as dyslexia and dyspraxia. It is common in the UK but less common elsewhere in the world

Behavioural impairments

  • Person with a behavioural impairment
  • Autistic person/Person with autism/on the autism spectrum. The term autism refers to people with a lifelong developmental disability. This may have an impact on their communication and social skills. Autism is a spectrum, not a single condition. Different people will experience it in different ways. Many autistic people prefer to use the term ‘autistic person’ as they see autism as part of their identity
  • Person with Asperger’s syndrome
  • Person with ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)

Mental health conditions

  • Person with a mental health condition
  • Person with depression/anxiety/psychosis
  • Person with psychosocial disability. ‘Psychosocial disability’ refers to mental health conditions that, combined with barriers in society, become disabling. Psychosocial disability can be episodic and is often not well identified.

Developmental disabilities

  • Person with a developmental disability. ‘Developmental disabilities’ is an umbrella term. It refers to long-term conditions that appear before adulthood and can impact different areas. Developmental disabilities include example cerebral palsy and autism

Chronic health conditions/illnesses

  • Person with a chronic health condition/person with a chronic illness. Chronic health conditions are energy-limiting chronic illnesses that are persistent or long-lasting. They can cause physical fatigue, mental fatigue and pain


  • Person who is neurodiverse. Neurodiversity refers to the range of differences in individual brain function and behaviour. These differences can include people with dyspraxia, dyslexia, ADHD, autism and Tourette syndrome.

Language to avoid

  • Differently abled
  • PWD
  • Special needs
  • Cripple
  • Invalid
  • Victim
  • Handicapped
  • Suffering from
  • Inspiring/Brave
  • Collective nouns: the disabled/the blind/the deaf
  • Non-disabled
  • Able-bodied
  • Normal
  • Dumb (‘non-verbal’ may be an appropriate alternative, but consider whether it’s relevant to mention)
  • Deaf-mute
  • Confined to a wheelchair/wheelchair-bound
  • Spastic
  • Midget
  • Mentally handicapped
  • Mentally defective
  • Retarded
  • Sub-normal
  • Mongoloid
  • Stupid
  • Slow/slow learner
  • Fits (when referring to someone who has epilepsy)

Learn more about our work

Disability rights