lezioni di vocabolario

Talking about disabilities

Parlare di disabilità può essere un argomento sensibile e delicato, al quale prestare tatto e attenzione. Impariamo i termini base, così da poter sostenere un discorso in maniera adeguata anche in lingua inglese.

A disability is an aspect of a person that limits them in some way. Physical disabilities limit the way the body works. For example, some people need glasses because they do not see well. Other people do not walk and use wheelchairs. Developmental disabilities limit some people’s thinking. Other terms for this include retardation, mentally handicapped and special needs. For instance, Down Syndrome is an example of a developmental disability. People with disabilities try to live just like other people do. They sometimes need special equipment such as special cups to drink from or accessible buildings (with ramps, elevators, wide doorways and plenty of room beside the toilet, for example).

According to a recent survey two-thirds of people feel uncomfortable or awkward talking to somebody who is disabled. Firstly, because they feel sorry for people with disabilities. Secondly, because they are afraid that they will say something wrong. What’s important is that you respect the person and see them beyond their disability.

The most important question many people have is: What is appropriate terminology, for example, disability, impairment, or handicap? When you’re working with someone, you can ask what terminology he or she prefers. Some people prefer different terms, some get very upset about terminology, and some don’t care. Some people really appreciate the opportunity to talk about their disability and educate people about accessibility issues, and others don’t like to talk about it at all.

Before you help someone, ask whether they need help. In some cases a person with a disability might seem to be struggling, yet they are fine and would prefer to complete the task on their own.

If you are talking to a person who is hard of hearing and uses an interpreter, make sure you focus your interaction with the person you are talking to and not to the interpreter. If you will be speaking for some time with a person in a wheelchair, sit down so that you are at eye level with them so they don’t have to strain their neck to look up to you.

Avoidpotentially offensive terms or euphemisms. Commonly accepted terminology includes people with disabilities” and “a person with a visual/hearing/physical/speech/cognitive impairment”. Also, be aware of personal space. Some people who use a mobility aid, such as a wheelchair, walker, or cane, see these aids as part of their personal space. Don’t touch, move, or lean on mobility aids. This is also important for safety.



person with a disability, people with disabilities, disabled handicapped, cripple, victim, crip, unfortunate, defective, handi-capable
wheelchair user, uses a wheelchair wheelchair-bound
blind, low vision, partially sighted blind as a bat, sightless, the blind
mobility disability deformed, maimed, paralytic, lame
psychologically/emotionally disabled, emotional disorder the mentally ill, mental, crazy, insane
developmentally disabled retard, mentally defective
birth anomaly, congenital disability birth defect, mongoloid
a person who is deaf or hard of hearing suffers a hearing loss, the deaf
person with epilepsy spastic, epileptic, spaz
speech disability, communication disability tongue-tied
non-vocal, a person who is non-verbal mute, dumb
a person of short stature, little person midget, dwarf
learning disability slow
chronic illness suffers from, afflicted, stricken with

Injury means a harm or hurt. Usually an injury is when the body or a part of the body is damaged by something. Another word for physical or mental injury is trauma. Injury can be:

environmentalburns from heat or injury from cold
penetrating injury – when a sharp object, like a knife pierces the body
blunt injury – when something hits the body (like punching someone or falling from a tree)
chemical – being hurt by chemicals like burns from acid

Injury can be accidental or intentional. Intentional injury is when someone tries to hurt another person. (Intentional injury is also called non-accidental injury.) Accidental injury is when no one meant to hurt the injured party. An injury can be:

serious injury – ferita grave

minor injury – ferita lieve

multiple injuries – ferita multipla

internal injury – lesione/ferita interna

fatal injury – lesione/ferita mortale

Other collocations:

to suffer an injury – subire lesioni

to sustain an injury (used especially in newspaper reports) – riportare lesioni

to escape/to avoid an injury – evitare lesioni

Her arm is in plaster.

She is in a wheelchair.

His arm is in a sling.

She is walking on crutches.

Il suo braccio é ingessato.

É in sedia a rotelle.

Il suo braccio é fasciato.

Cammina con le grucce.

He needs a walking stick.

His hand is bandaged up.

She has had to have stitches on her eyebrow.

She can’t walk without a zimmer frame/ walker.

Lui ha bisogno di un bastone da passeggio.

La sua mano é bendata.

Lui ha dei punti di sutura sulle sue sopracciglia.

Non riesce a camminare senza deambulatore.


disability disabilità
to limit limitare
wheelchair sedia a rotelle
developmental dello sviluppo
retardation ritardo mentale
special needs necessità speciali
equipment strumenti
accessible accessibile
ramp rampa
survey sondaggio
awkward goffo, impacciato
terminology terminologia
impairment invalidità
handicap handicap, disabilità
to appreciate essere grato per
to struggle lottare
to avoid evitare
offensive term termine offensivo
euphemism eufemismo
mobility aid aiuti per la mobilità
walker girello
cane bastone
to lean on appoggiarsi a qualcosa
cripple zoppo
wheelchair-bound persona in sedia a rotelle
congenital congenito
to be afflicted with/by soffrire di qualcosa
environmental ambientale
burns bruciature
penetrating penetrazione
to pierce perforare
blunt contundente
acid acido


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