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Disability? Impairment? DisAbility? Linguistic do's and don'ts

Linguistic do's and don'ts

At the beginning of dealing with the subject of disability, there is also the determination of the right choice of words. Words are the "clothing of our thoughts". Sometimes they express prejudices or underlying values, conveying negative and positive characteristics.
What words are used to speak or write about the subject of disability? The conceptual range is wide and their meanings and implications are not apparent at first glance. Everyone can understand that one shouldn't say or write “cripple”. But what about the term “handicap”? Not a problematic word at first glance. But comes from an old English game and is no longer used in English for disabled people.

So don't be afraid of the word “disability”!

We at have made a conscious decision to use the word “disability”. In our opinion, paraphrases such as “handicap” or “special needs” reproduce the stigma of the word “disability”. We do not speak or write of “the disabled person”, but of “people / job seekers / employees / ... with disabilities” or “disabled people / job seekers / employees / ...” Why? “The disabled person” is a reduction to the aspect of disability.

First and foremost it is about the person, the position or the role, secondly the disability. The disability is only one of many characteristics of a person to which he must not be reduced. We do not use the phrase “to be disabled”.We speak of “having a disability". A person is not handicapped and has to define himself as such, but has a handicap. To some, this may all sound like eye-wiping - what's the point of these phrases? In our opinion, this is a question of self-definition. Language is a means here to show that a disability is not a person's whole self.

Language is constantly evolving and even among people with disabilities or organizations dealing with the topic of disability there are sometimes different positions on the choice of words. You can also see that regionally. In Germany, for example, there is the word “severe disability”, but this is not common in Austria. Our decision on the choice of words was made in the mutual consensus of the employees, some of whom have a disability themselves.

The aim is to show the self-confident understanding of people with disabilities in language as well. A disability is not a reason to hide or to speak something beautifully. The word "disability" should not trigger a strange, uncomfortable feeling or the desire to use a "nicer" term. The problems with the word “disability” show the social problem that we at address. A "handicap" is not something that needs to be hidden or embellished.


  • People with disabilities / disabled people: A disability does not define the whole person.
  • Have a disability: I am not my disability, I have a disability.
  • Impairment: This word comes from Disability Studies and clearly relates to the physical aspects of a disability. Right now this word is used very often and is not wrong per se. However, the word disability also brings in the social dimension of external disability, which is why we prefer the word “disability”.
  • Disability: Switching to the English term is often a good way to start in our work with companies. We also speak of disability recruiting in our advice.
  • Restriction: Not only companies sometimes find it very difficult to understand the word disability, people with disabilities sometimes have problems to classify themselves here. We use “restriction” in contexts where classification as “disability” proves difficult. And also when it comes to a broader understanding.


  • The disabled person - to be disabled: With this choice of words one is reduced to the disability as if it were the only identity-creating characteristic.
  • Handicap: Comes from an old English game and is no longer used in English for disabled people.
  • Special needs / special skills: In our opinion, this is the most inappropriate form of fear of the term “disability” - we want to move the subject of disability into normality and not compulsively make something “special” out of the disability.

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