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List of disability-related terms with negative connotations

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The following is a list of terms used to describe disabilities or people with disabilities that may be considered negative and/or offensive by people with or without disabilities.

There is a great deal of disagreement as to what should be considered offensive. Views vary with geography and culture, over time, and among individuals. Many terms that some people view as offensive are not viewed as offensive by others, and even where some people are offended by certain terms, others may be offended by the replacement of such terms with what they consider to be euphemisms (e.g., "differently abled" or "special needs"). Some people believe that terms should be avoided if they might offend people; others hold the listener responsible for misinterpreting terms used with non-offensive intent.

For some terms, the grammar structure of their use determine if they are offensive. The people first stance advocates for saying "people with disabilities" instead of "the disabled" or "a person who is deaf" instead of "a deaf person".[1][2][3] However, some advocate against this, saying it reflects a medical model of disability whereas "disabled person" is more appropriate and reflects the social model of disability.[4] On the other hand, there is also a grammar structure called identity-first language that construes disability as a function of social and political experiences occurring within a world designed largely for nondisabled people.[5]




  • Crazy, especially when used to describe something incredible or ridiculous.[2][7][10][11]
  • Cretin[12]
  • Cripple used to mean "a person with a physical or mobility impairment." Its shortened form, "crip" is reclaimed by some people with disabilities as a positive identity.[2][3][8][13]







  • Imbecile was the diagnostic term for people with IQ scores between 30–50 in the early 1900s.[22] It is no longer used professionally.[2] Before to the IQ test was developed in 1905, "imbecile" was also commonly used as a casual insult towards anyone perceived as incompetent at doing something.[22]
  • Incapacitated[2]
  • Idiot was the diagnostic term used for people with IQ scores under 30 when the IQ test was first developed in the early 1900s.[22][23] It is also no longer used professionally. Before the IQ test was developed in 1905, "idiot" was also commonly used as a casual insult towards anyone perceived as incompetent at doing something.[22]
  • Insane[14]
  • Invalid[2][7]


  • Lame. A reference to difficulty walking or moving. The term has since been adopted into urban slang to generally refer to something or someone as "meaningless" or "without worth", e.g. "He told us a lame excuse for why he had not done the work."[2][10][11]
  • Losing one's mind[14]
  • Lunatic or looney[2]






  • Schizo especially as an adjective, meaning "erratic" or "unpredictable" or, for the former two, to refer to an individual.[25][26][27][28]
  • Spastic/Spaz/Spakka[2][8][11]
    • See the article on the word for the dramatically different connotations of the term in Commonwealth and North American English. The term is extremely offensive in Commonwealth English, especially in the UK, but far less so in North America.






  1. ^ Vaughan, C. Edwin (March 2009). "People-First Language: An Unholy Crusade". Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x "Resource on Person-First Language - The Language Used to Describe Individuals With Disabilities". American Speech–Language–Hearing Association. December 1992. Archived from the original on 11 May 2015. Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Disability etiquette - Tips On Interacting With People With Disabilities" (PDF). United Spinal Association. 2008. Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  4. ^ Egan, Lisa (9 November 2012). "I'm Not A "Person With a Disability": I'm a Disabled Person". XoJane. Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  5. ^ Dunn, Dana S.; Andrews, Erin E. (2015). "Person-first and identity-first language: Developing psychologists' cultural competence using disability language". American Psychologist. 70 (3): 255–264. doi:10.1037/a0038636. PMID 25642702.
  6. ^ Kent, Tamsyn (6 November 2009). "Has 'autism' become a term of abuse?". BBC News. Retrieved 30 September 2015.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "ENC1101 First-year Composition - Guidelines for Avoiding Ableist Language". Archived from the original on 16 September 2011. Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h "Advice for Staff - Disability Etiquette - Appropriate Language and Behaviour". Student Support and Accommodation. Heriot-Watt University. Archived from the original on 2 February 2014. Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  9. ^ Jernigan, Kenneth (March 2009). "The Pitfalls of Political Correctness: Euphemisms Excoriated". National Federation of the Blind.
  10. ^ a b c d "The Transcontinental Disability Choir: What is Ableist Language and Why Should You Care?". 11 November 2009. Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Disability Access Services Blog - Ableism and Language". 31 January 2012. Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  12. ^ a b c d e Brown, Lydia (16 June 2013). "Ableist Language". Retrieved 28 September 2013.
  13. ^ Clare, Eli. "Thinking about the word crip". Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g Steele, David (6 September 2012). "Crazy talk: The language of mental illness stigma". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 September 2016.
  15. ^ Brown, Lydia. "Identity First Language". Autistic Self Advocacy Network.
  16. ^ Haller, Beth. "Journalists should learn to carefully traverse a variety of disability terminology". National Center on Disability and Journalism.
  17. ^ Sinclair, Jim. "Why I dislike Person First language". Anatomy, the Critical Journal of Interdisciplinary Autism Studies.
  18. ^ Bryan, Chloe (September 22, 2017). "What is a 'dotard,' anyway?". Mashable. Retrieved March 8, 2018. At its core, "dotard" makes a judgement about a person's mental health, which is not a particularly wise thing to be doing to your peers as you dance through life.
  19. ^ "Accessibility & Disability Etiquette - Accessibility".
  20. ^ Quackenbush, Nicole (2008). Bodies in Culture, Culture in Bodies: Disability Narratives and a Rhetoric of Resistance. Ann Arbor, MI: ProQuest LLC. pp. 118–127.
  21. ^ Cowley, Gina. "Female Hysteria". BellaOnline. Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  22. ^ a b c d Rapley, Mark (2004), The Social Construction of Intellectual Disability, Cambridge University Press, p. 32, ISBN 978-0-521-00529-6.
  23. ^ Cruz, Isagani A.; Quaison, Camilo D. (2003), Correct Choice of Words' : English Grammar Series for Filipino Lawyers (2003 ed.), Rex Bookstore, Inc., pp. 444–445, ISBN 978-971-23-3686-7.
  24. ^ Hodges, Rick. "The Rise and Fall of "Mentally Retarded" – Member Feature Stories". Medium. Retrieved 2018-10-12.
  25. ^ Penn, David L.; Nowlin-Drummond, Amy (2001). "Politically Correct Labels and Schizophrenia: A Rose by Any Other Name?" (PDF). Schizophrenia Bulletin. 27 (2): 197–203. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.schbul.a006866.
  26. ^ Kelly, Jon; Winterman, Denise (10 October 2011). "OCD, bipolar, schizophrenic and the misuse of mental health terms". BBC News. Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  27. ^ " - Schizoid". Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  28. ^ "The Free Dictionary - Schizo". Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  29. ^ " - Tard". Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  30. ^ "the definition of vegetable". Retrieved 2018-02-20.
  31. ^ Ipsos MORI (September 2016). "Attitudes to potentially offensive language and gestures on TV and radio" (PDF). Retrieved 3 November 2017.
  32. ^ Smith, Noel 'Razor' (2015). The Criminal Alphabet: An A-Z of Prison Slang. Penguin UK. p. 236. ISBN 9780141946832.
  33. ^ Frumkin, Howard; Packard, Randall M.; Brown, Peter G.; Ruth L. Berkelman (2004). Emerging illnesses and society: negotiating the public health agenda. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-7942-5.

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