Words Matter. Let’s remove those barriers and be inclusive: Language to use.

 Simply put, stigma is a reaction to a label or misperceived difference. The reaction comes from both society on a micro and macro level, as well as from the person on the receiving end. Stigma matters because it creates barriers, barriers that can seem to be never ending.

Sometimes a label can be a mental illness, an addiction (Kessler, et al., 2004), physical attributes like the colour of our skin, or other attributes and abilities like social status, economic status, physical and mental disabilities.

The reaction happens through our negative attitudes and responses or rather through prejudice and discrimination (Kessler, et al., 2004). Prejudice feelings create discrimination which then stigmatizes the person wearing the label.

It’s important to search for solutions to change our thoughts, feelings, behaviours, policies, and procedures, which can stop the spread of stigma.

Some of the reasons why structural stigma happens is because we haven’t yet changed the public and private policies and practices that have for far too long, been the norm.  When society was built, there was not any thought (sometimes on purpose and other times unintentional) about inclusion or simply that we are not all the same. These very fibers of society “conspire to preserve dominant ideologies and maintain social hierarchies” and at other times, when unintentional, such as some social policies further stigmatize a person because of the inequities that are created (Livingston, 2013, p. 9).

One way an individual, a professional, institution, or organization can stop perpetuating barriers, is in the words that are used in creating any piece of information. Specifically for this blog, I will be letting you know how to be inclusive to disabled individuals when you create information.

Disability is defined both by legal and scientific ways, includes physical, psychological, intellectual, and socioemotional impairments (American Psychological Association Publication Manual, 2021). APA has provided an updated guide for anyone who is going to be authoring, creating, or producing information. The points below are taken directly from— Disability: https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/bias-free-language/, please click this link or continue reading as I share this information with you on how to write bias free so that we can continue to remove barriers.

  • Person-first language:

Emphasize the person not the individuals or groups disabling or chronic condition(s)— a youth with epilepsy notan epileptic”; people with substance use disorders not “substance abusers”.

  • Identify-first language:

The disability becomes the focus allowing the individual to claim the disability and choose their identity rather than permitting others to name or select terms with negative implications; an expression of cultural pride and reclamation of a disability that once gave a negative identity. Examples of identity-first language are: blind person, autistic person, and amputee.

Both person-first and identity-first approaches to language are designed to respect disabled persons; both are fine choices overall… if you are unsure of which approach to use, seek guidance from self-advocacy groups or other stakeholders specific to a group of people (see, e.g., Brown, 2011/n.d.). If you are working with participants directly, use the language they use to describe themselves (American Psychological Association Publication Manual, 2021).”

  • Avoid negative, condescending, and patronizing terminology; pictorial metaphors or negatives that imply restriction or excessive labels and slurs.


special needs

physically challenged

mentally challenged, mentally retarded, mentally ill




person with a disability, person who has a disability

disabled person

person with a mental illness

people with intellectual disabilities

child with a congenital disability

child with a birth impairment

physically disabled person, person with a physical disability



person with deafness, person who is deaf

hearing-impaired person, person who is hearing impaired

person with hearing loss

person with deafness and blindness



Deaf person

hard-of-hearing person, person who is hard-of-hearing

Deaf-Blind person


visually challenged person

sight-challenged person

person with blindness


blind person

visually impaired person, vision-impaired person

person who is blind

person who is visually impaired, person who is vision impaired


wheelchair-bound person

AIDS victim

brain damaged

cripple, invalid, defective, nuts

alcoholic, meth addict


wheelchair user, person in a wheelchair

person with AIDS

person with a traumatic brain injury

person with a physical disability, person with a mental illness

person with alcohol use disorder, person with substance use disorder



American Psychological Association Publication Manual, S. E. (2021, 08). Disability. Retrieved from APA Style: https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/bias-free-language/disability

Kessler, E., Munn, E., Waller-Vintar, J., Greenbaum, J., LaRocque-Stuart, L., & Ayim, M. (2004). CMAH Mental Health and Addiction 101 Series Stigma. Retrieved from http://www.camhx.ca/education/online_courses_webinars/mha101/stigma/Stigma_.htm

Livingston, J. D. (2013, 10 31). Mental Illness-related Structural Stigma. Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/sites/default/files/MHCC_OpeningMinds_MentalIllnessRelatedSructuralStigmaReport_ENG_0_0.pdf

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