Contact us

Hours: 9 am to 4 pm, Monday to Friday
Centre for Accessible Learning (CAL)
1250 Maggie Benston Centre
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby BC V5A 1S6
Email: caladmin@sfu.ca
Phone: 778.782.3112
Secure Fax: 778.782.4384

Visit our Accessibility Information Page to find detailed information about our office and its accessibility considerations.

Communication & Language

The information and resources listed within this section will help you communicate inclusively and accessibly.

Language and Style Guides

What words, phrases, and/or expressions should I use when communicating about disability? These language and style guides provide best practices for writing inclusively and accessibly.

Quick Tips for Inclusive Communication

Tip #1: Don't make assumptions about someone's disability or assume their accommodation needs.

Just because an individual has disclosed their disability to you, does not necessarily mean that they require specific accommodations that you assume they need. Assumptions are often wrong and asking is always better than assuming.

Tip #2: When communicating with or about an individual, check their preferred language.

People with disabilities are not homogenous. Communication preferences are diverse. When referring to their disability, someone may prefer to use the term “blind,” whereas others may refer to themselves as a "person who is blind."

Tip #3: Best practice is to use “person with disability”.

Avoid saying “they are a handicapped person,” or “she is differently-abled.” Consider saying instead that “they/she are/is a person with a disability.” Some people prefer identity first language and may refer to themselves as a “disabled person.”  Similarly, identity first language is largely preferred by some sub-communities within the disability community. This difference in preferences makes it all the more important to check in with people about their preferred language.

Tip #4: If you do make a mistake, acknowledge, apologize and move on.

Example in action: Mariah accidentally refers to Jace as handicapped. She proceeds appropriately by following these three steps. Step #1 - Acknowledge: "Jace, I realize that I accidentally referred to you as handicapped. I know that you prefer referring to yourself as a person with a disability." Step #2 - Apologize: "I'm very sorry that I used this term. I will be more cautious in the future." Step #3 - Move on: Mariah exhibits a commitment to learn.

Tip #5: Avoid categorizing individuals.

Example: Terms referring to groups based solely on their disabilities such as "the learning disabled" are inappropriate. Alternatively, "individuals who have learning disabilities" would be an appropriate expression to use.

Tip #6: Avoid language that indicates weakness, such as stricken with/afflicted with/suffers from.

Instead of using terms that suggest weakness, inspiration, or exceptionality based on a person’s disability alone, try to use neutral terms when referencing people with disabilities.

Tip #7: Best practice for accessible communication includes using plain language.

Using plain language ensures that your audience understands information the first time they read or hear it. Plain language ensures that your audience is focused on the message rather than distracting vocabulary, sentence structure, etc. For more information on plain language and how to use it, explore the following links: