“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” ~Mark Twain

Mark Twain may have been talking literature, but his point is relevant in everyday life. Words are a really large matter when they can make the difference between being inclusive, sensitive, or oppressive. Oppressive words are so ingrained into our everyday conversational language that often we don’t even know that we are saying hurtful, stigmatizing, degrading words or expressing prejudice. It is important, as parents/grandparents/guardians that we both omit oppressive language from our vocabulary and help kids find alternate words to articulate when we hear them use oppressive language.

Mobility International provides a link to a GREAT document created by the National Youth Leadership Network (NYLN) and Kids as Self Advocates that discusses respectful disability language. In it you’ll find how language relates to power, a super helpful general guideline, and a list of “outdated” language with corresponding respectful language.

For example:

Instead of: Use:
Insane Person with mental health disability
Special Person with a disability
Cripple Wheelchair User

***CAUTION***Many of the “outdated” terms listed on the Respectful Disability Language sheet are used in common language and in these instances, in addition to when used to reference people with disabilities, it is considered ableist language. They should be never be used as put-downs, insults, or to describe a situation.

Some examples: not an exhaustive list!

Dumb Retarded “Special-ed” or “Special” Insane
Slow Psycho Crazy Wacko
Nuts Cripple Gimp Spastic
Spaz Lame Disturbed


Check out this post about words and phrases you probably don’t know are racist!

Some everyday words you probably use that are ableist language.

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