Use inclusive language

Inclusive language in the workplace

Make an impact today with inclusive language and communication in the workplace. Using appropriate language and making sure your colleagues are aware of what they can do is a great way to make an impact straight away. These language tips are a starting point, but always take note of your colleagues’ personal preferences.

Say Avoid saying
Person with disability Victim, disabled person, suffers from, not normal
Person with cerebral palsy Afflicted by / with
Person with a vision disability Afflicted by / with, cannot see
Person with Autism Autistic person
Person with a physical disability Crippled, the crippled, crippling, invalid
Person who uses a wheelchair Wheelchair bound, confined to a wheelchair
Person with a hearing disability/person who is deaf Deaf and dumb, Deaf mute
Accessible parking, accessible toilets Disabled toilets/parking, handicapped toilets/parking
Mental Health issues / condition Mental health problem, mentally ill
Person without disability Non-disabled, able bodied, normal
Learning disability/difficulty Retarded, special needs, slow
Accessible toilet Disabled toilet

There are many resources to learn more about inclusive language, Diversity Council Australia provides an excellent contemporary guide to inclusive language in the workplace.

Words to never use

There are some words that should never be used in the context of a person’s disability, even if someone with a disability uses the term themselves— victim, less fortunate, moron, mongoloid, mad, backward, freak, spastic/spaz, loony, and cripple/crip.

Communication tips

When communicating with someone with disability, it is important to remember to treat each person as an individual. Treat people with respect and consideration and in the way that you would want to be treated.

Tips to make everyone feel more comfortable

  • If you are not sure about something, particularly communicating, ask the person directly
  • Speak directly to the person with a disability, even if a person without disability is with them
  • Address the person by name if you know it
  • Offer assistance if it appears necessary, but wait for acceptance and instruction before proceeding
  • Extend your hand to shake when meeting someone
  • Use a normal tone of voice—do not raise your voice unless asked to
  • Be polite and patient—do not rush the conversation
  • Ask the person what will help with communication, there are many different ways to communicate
  • Don't pretend to understand, let the person know you are having difficulty; try asking yes or no questions
  • Be flexible and reword rather than repeat anything that is not understood
  • Only refer to the person's disability if necessary or relevant
  • Relax—everyone makes mistakes; apologise if you believe you have embarrassed someone
  • Avoid saying anything that implies the person with disability is superhuman, courageous or special.