June 23, 2006

U.S./U.K. Disability Language Differences

Posted in Disability at 10:25 pm by caelesti

While I’ve long been aware of differences in word usage between my native land, the United States and Britain, I had not realized there were differences in disability terminology. Disablism, as discussed in the last post is a British term, the equivalent to the American “ableism”. As Goldfish explains in a guide to disability language– “disabled people” is preferred in the U.K. while we Yanks say “people with disabilities” or PWDs for short. (I’m not too picky about which one is used)

An even more important language difference to note is the usage of the term “learning disability”. Apparently, in the UK, learning disability means mentally retarded or significantly intellectually challenged, whereas in the U.S. (and Canada, presumably) in refers to a broader range of cognitive/processing differences which occur in people with a variety of levels of intelligence(s) and abilities. This seems a bit ironic, as learning disabled people are all too often assumed to be not very smart.

One thing I love about the Net is the increased opportunities to talk with people from around the world, and work together. There seem to be a lot of autism sites and organizations based in Britain, and I have had the pleasure to talk with autistic folks from Britain, Sweden, Ireland, Australia and many other places.

For more on American vs. British English, check out the Seperated By a Common Language blog I just discovered. I’d also be curious to see info on English in Australia, New Zealand and other countries.



  1. Hi, Caelesti. Your note about the term “Learning Disability” caught my eye, as I also write about this topic. You’re correct in noting that Learning Disability refers to individuals with mental retardation in the UK. In the US and Canada (and some other countries), it refers to individuals who, despite having average or above average intelligence, have substantial deficits in achievement. In many parts of the world, there is not legal recognition of LD. Last spring when I was traveling in Asia and Portugal, several people told me, “We don’t have the category ‘LD,’ but we do have the children you’re talking about.” I discuss these and other matters on my blog LD Blog.

  2. […] in the context of someone writing in the UK. I’ve also commented on this at caelesti’s Roots, Leaves and Threads.) So, we have to cut WheelchairPrincess some slack in her use of the […]

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