At Hope, we prefer to focus on people rather than their diagnosis. Therefore, we use “people-first language” that sees the individual and their potential first rather than a diagnosis. Below are a few guidelines for intellectual or developmental disability terminology that we use as a guide. Please keep in mind that language and conventions are always evolving. We recommend asking the person who you are speaking with or referring to how they would like to be addressed.

  • Use “intellectual disability,” which replaced “mental retardation” in U.S. federal law in 2010. Refer to individuals, persons, or people with intellectual disabilities, rather than “intellectually disabled people” or “the intellectually disabled.”
  • Similarly, say that a person has intellectual disabilities, rather than is “suffering from,” is “afflicted with,” or is “a victim of” intellectual disabilities.
  • Do not use the terms “retardation,” “retarded,” “retard,” etc. These R-words have become hurtful slurs toward people with intellectual disabilities. Using the R-word is the same as using any slur against a minority group.
  • Use “Down syndrome,” which has replaced “Down’s Syndrome” and “mongoloid.”
  • Distinguish between adults and children with intellectual disabilities.
  • If relevant, say that a person “uses” a wheelchair, rather than is “confined to” or “restricted to” a wheelchair, or “wheelchair-bound.”
  • Use the word “special” with extreme care when talking about persons with intellectual disabilities.
  • Do not use the adjective “unfortunate” when talking about people with an intellectual disability. Disabling conditions do not have to be life-defining in a negative way.
  • Do not sensationalize the accomplishments of people with disabilities. While these accomplishments should be recognized and applauded, the disability rights movement has tried to make the public aware of the negative impact of referring to the achievements of people with physical or intellectual disabilities with excessive hyperbole.
  • Above all, if you are uncertain what terminology to use, try asking a person with a disability! Inclusion is about recognizing the humanity that connects all of us. Starting a conversation is the first step.

Individuals with disabilities should not be defined by their disability. They are people with their own thoughts, hopes, dreams, accomplishments, and wishes. Treat them as such!

Download Hope terminology for people with ID DD