What is appropriate language to use when referring to a person or people with an intellectual disability?

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“Words with Dignity” was developed as a useful reference tool for journalists when reporting on people with an intellectual disability. If you would like more information on using Words with Dignity, contact Gina Wilkins, Director of Marketing and Communications for the New Brunswick Association for Community Living.
Language around persons with an intellectual disability can often depict a person or persons with an intellectual disability inaccurately. Here is a list of preferred terms and appropriate language to use when referring to a person or people with an intellectual disability in general:

Avoid Using: “Disabled Person” or “The Disabled.”
Use This Instead: A person with a disability. People with a disability.

Avoid Using: “Normal.” (People with an intellectual disability are normal people who have a disability).
Use This Instead: People who do not have a disability.

Avoid Using: “Retarded.”
Use This Instead: A child/adult with an intellectual disability.

Avoid Using: “Abnormal” or “Subnormal” or “Defective” or “Deformed” (These are negative, clinical terms that imply a failure to reach perfection and do not speak to the whole person).
Use This Instead: Specify the disability.

Avoid Using: “Suffers From” or “Afflicted With.” (Most people with an intellectual disability do not see themselves as suffering or victims).
Use This Instead: The person has … (an intellectual disability and if necessary, specify the disability).

Avoid Using: “Depends On” (teacher assistant, aides, equipment)
Use This Instead: Is supported by, uses.

Avoid Using: “Disease” (when used as disability)
Use This Instead: Disability.

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