25 Politically Correct Terms for “Special Needs”

The beauty of language lies in its ability to evolve, to reflect our understanding of the world around us, and to dignify all individuals. As our understanding of differences and disabilities has matured, so too has the language we use to describe these conditions.

“Special Needs” is a term we’ve used to talk about people with certain physical or cognitive conditions, but it’s been criticized for contributing to a stigmatizing perspective of these individuals. It’s important that we use language that centers on their experiences, not their conditions, and underscores their dignity and humanity.

political correct term for special needs

25 Politically Correct Terms for “Special Needs”

So, let’s look at 25 alternatives to the term “Special Needs.”

1. “Differently Abled”

“Differently Abled” is an affirmative term that emphasizes a person’s abilities rather than their disabilities. It suggests that people have different abilities and that these differences should be respected and valued, rather than seen as problems to be solved.


“In our school, we strive to create an inclusive environment for all students, including those who are differently abled.”

“As an employer, we value diversity and encourage differently abled individuals to apply for positions in our company.”

2. “Person with a Disability”

This phrase uses person-first language to emphasize that a person with a disability is, first and foremost, a person. By putting the person before the disability, this phrase helps to dispel stereotypes and emphasizes the humanity of the individual.


“Tom, a person with a disability, has been an indispensable part of our team.”

“Our community centre offers programs designed for persons with disabilities.”

3. “Individual with a Disability”

Just like “Person with a Disability”, “Individual with a Disability” is a person-first phrase. It emphasizes individuality over a person’s disability, focusing on their unique experiences and personality.


“Every individual with a disability should have the same opportunities to participate in society.”

“This organization supports individuals with disabilities to live fulfilling lives.”

4. “Person with an Ability Difference”

This term goes a step further to stress the variation in human abilities. It aims to view these differences as a normal aspect of human diversity, rather than something abnormal or deficient.


“Our university offers comprehensive support services for persons with ability differences.”

“This new policy aims to better accommodate people with ability differences.”

5. “Person with a Condition”

This term, while quite general, can be useful when discussing a specific condition without focusing on disability. It’s particularly appropriate in contexts where the condition is not necessarily disabling but does require special consideration or accommodation.


“Our health plan covers individuals with conditions like asthma and diabetes.”

“As a teacher, I’ve learned strategies to support students who are persons with conditions.”

6. “Person Living with a Disability”

This term also uses person-first language and adds an element of agency, emphasizing that the person is living their life, with the disability being just one aspect of their whole experience.

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“John, a person living with a disability, is an inspiring motivational speaker.”

“Our company is committed to providing a supportive environment for persons living with disabilities.”

7. “Person with Impairment”

This term, while accurate, is less common and can seem clinical. However, it can be useful in more formal or technical contexts where it’s important to describe the nature of the disability.


“Our architectural designs consider accessibility for persons with physical impairments.”

“The study explores job opportunities for persons with sensory impairments.”

8. “Person with Access Needs”

This phrase focuses on the environmental and societal barriers that a person with a disability might face, rather than the disability itself. It places responsibility on society to meet these needs.


“Our museum offers guided tours for persons with access needs.”

“This report discusses educational strategies for students with access needs.”

9. “Person who Uses a Wheelchair”

When the disability or its accommodation is directly relevant to the conversation, it’s most respectful to use precise, person-first language. This kind of language focuses on the person and their usage of an aid, rather than defining them by it.


“We need to ensure our new building is accessible to persons who use wheelchairs.”

“Alice, a person who uses a wheelchair, has been a powerful advocate for accessibility.”

10. “Person with a Physical/Cognitive Difference”

This term is specific and uses person-first language, making it respectful and clear. It also emphasizes the difference rather than the deficit.


“As a person with a cognitive difference, Sam has unique insights into the learning process.”

“Our nonprofit serves persons with physical differences, advocating for inclusive fitness programs.”

11. “Person with Unique Abilities”

This term turns the focus away from the disability and highlights the special abilities that the person might have. It embraces the idea that every person has unique strengths and abilities.


“Our art program invites persons with unique abilities to express their creativity.”

“Jennifer, a person with unique abilities, has achieved great success in her field.”

12. “Neurodiverse Individual”

Neurodiversity is a concept that regards individuals with neurological differences (like autism, ADHD, etc.) as part of normal human diversity. Using this term can help to reduce stigma and promote acceptance.


“Our school has implemented strategies to support neurodiverse individuals.”

“Neurodiverse individuals bring valuable perspectives to our team.”

13. “Individual with a Learning Difference”

Rather than using the deficit-focused term “learning disability”, this phrase emphasizes that people simply learn in different ways. It can help to foster a more inclusive and understanding environment in educational settings.


“Our educational software is designed to support individuals with learning differences.”

“As a tutor, I’ve developed techniques to help individuals with learning differences.”

14. “Person with a Vision Impairment”

This phrase is specific and respectful, making it a good choice when discussing visual disabilities. It also uses person-first language, highlighting the person over their impairment.

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“Our city’s public transportation system offers support for persons with vision impairments.”

“The software has features that make it user-friendly for persons with vision impairments.”

15. “Person Who Is Hard of Hearing”

Rather than using the term “hearing impaired”, which can be seen as focusing on what people can’t do, this phrase puts the person first and uses neutral language to describe their hearing status.


“Our TV station offers closed captioning for persons who are hard of hearing.”

“The audiobook library provides services for persons who are hard of hearing.”

16. “Differently Abled Individual”

This term brings to the forefront the idea that everyone has abilities, they just vary from person to person. It’s an empowering term that can instill positivity.


“Our community center offers programs tailored to differently-abled individuals.”

“The differently-abled individual showcased their unique talents in the competition.”

17. “Person with an Intellectual Disability”

This term accurately describes people with certain types of cognitive impairment and uses person-first language, treating the disability as a characteristic rather than the defining feature.


“Our curriculum is designed to be accessible to persons with intellectual disabilities.”

“She has done significant work in advocating for the rights of persons with intellectual disabilities.”

18. “Person with Non-Visible Disability”

Not all disabilities are apparent to an observer. This term acknowledges those non-visible or hidden disabilities in a respectful way.


“Workplaces should provide support for persons with non-visible disabilities.”

“The campaign raised awareness about the challenges faced by persons with non-visible disabilities.”

19. “Person with a Speech Difference”

This phrase helps to reduce stigma around speech disabilities by framing them as a difference, not a deficit. It’s specific and person-centered, making it an appropriate choice for many contexts.


“The communication app was developed to assist persons with speech differences.”

“Our educational program accommodates and supports students with speech differences.”

20. “Person Who Is Mobility Challenged”

This term uses person-first language to describe individuals who have difficulties with physical movement, without resorting to labels or medical jargon. It’s broad and respectful, applicable to a wide range of situations.


“Our hotel provides convenient accommodations for persons who are mobility challenged.”

“The town’s annual marathon included a separate category for persons who are mobility challenged.”

21. “Person with Chronic Illness”

This phrase acknowledges the often overlooked group of people who have long-term health conditions. It uses person-first language, making it a respectful choice in many situations.


“The healthcare policy aims to offer improved resources for persons with chronic illnesses.”

“Our non-profit organization provides support for individuals with chronic illnesses.”

22. “Person on the Autism Spectrum”

This is a respectful, specific term for individuals diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. It uses person-first language and avoids outdated, stigmatizing terms like “autistic person”.

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“Our school district is committed to inclusivity for persons on the autism spectrum.”

“The workshop was designed to engage persons on the autism spectrum in creative pursuits.”

23. “Individual with Mental Health Challenges”

Mental health is an important aspect of overall well-being. This term acknowledges the difficulties faced by individuals with mental health issues without defining them by these challenges.


“The counseling center offers services to individuals with mental health challenges.”

“Our employee wellness program focuses on supporting individuals with mental health challenges.”

24. “Person with Assistive Device”

This phrase puts the person before their device. It’s appropriate in contexts where the device is relevant, like discussions of accessibility or accommodation.


“The building is equipped with facilities for persons with assistive devices.”

“Our transport service offers assistance for persons with assistive devices.”

25. “Person with a Special Health Care Need”

This phrase describes individuals who need more than routine health care due to a physical, developmental, behavioral, or emotional condition. It’s comprehensive and uses person-first language.


“Our health plan covers services for persons with special health care needs.”

“The support group caters to families of persons with special health care needs.”

That concludes our list of 25 polite and respectful ways to refer to individuals with special needs. Remember, the goal of using such language is to foster an environment of respect and understanding.

It’s important to consider the individuals’ preferences in how they wish to be referred to. Always prioritize person-first language and avoid terms that focus on limitations rather than abilities.

These phrases aim to empower individuals, removing the focus from their disabilities and instead, recognizing their unique abilities and the diverse perspectives they bring. Remember, we all have a role to play in making our language more inclusive and understanding.

So the next time you’re in a conversation, writing an article, or crafting a policy document, remember these terms. They will not only help you communicate more effectively but also show empathy and respect. As with all things, practice makes perfect. By consciously using these phrases in your everyday life, you can help promote a more inclusive and understanding environment for all.

The more we educate ourselves and understand the importance of our words, the closer we move towards an empathetic society where everyone is valued for their unique contributions. Language is a powerful tool, let’s use it to promote kindness and inclusivity!