say no to the H word

New campaign offers alternative to handicap

Project Director Rocky Mountain ADA Center

People first language alert!

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which is an important milestone for our nation.

This anniversary helped the ADA gain momentum by providing a window to promote the law’s advancements and the support it has provided for the millions of our neighbors who are people with disabilities.

With this milestone in place, the Rocky Mountain ADA Center believes it’s time to begin a new discussion about alternatives to the word, handicap, which is long overdue for replacement.

Remember that the next time you hear someone utter the “H word,” it’s ok. People who use this word are not trying to be disrespectful, but listen to them nonetheless. Perhaps you can provide them with an alternative term.

Shades of change

The “H word” didn’t always carry a stigma. It began innocently enough as a slew of casual phrases leaked into our language, for example: Jack is “confined to a wheelchair,” Jane “suffers from multiple sclerosis,” Jenny parks in “handicapped parking places.”

To be fair, the word, handicap, began with good intentions, or at least intentions that were not mean-spirited. But, changes in language are subtle, and even in the absence of dark motives, unintended consequences often form. Words can hurt!

As time passed, the “H word” and phrases that accompany it became code for second-class citizenship.

No one planned it. There should be no guilt felt by those using this term. But there should be information available to help people understand that the “H word” and phrases do hurt feelings.

The “H word” began as simple semantics. Now, the word carries real ramifications. A person with a disability tends to be ‘one of them’ — not ‘one of us.’

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 56.7 million Americans were recorded as people with some sort of disability, which is about 19 percent of the population. The 56.7 million people with a disability is a lot souls and that’s a lot of Hs. It could lead to an impossible never-ending labeling job!

But once it’s understood that there are so many people with a disability and that anyone could become a person with a disability – in a car crash for example – it may be easier to grasp the notion that a group of 56.7 million citizens are not “them” — they’re “us.”

We invite you to join us!

Ending the “H word” is far more than paying homage to political correctness. Whether we are talking about something that is called subjective, insensitive language or tangible like a curb cut, America has a social contract that goes unspoken in some ways but is expressly written into its laws in others.

America started down the right road with the ADA almost 25 years ago. Now it’s time to leverage the law’s advancement and rally around it for a new discussion by replacing the “H word” with appropriate terms.

In November, the Rocky Mountain ADA center launched a new website,, which includes a space for our movement to end the “H word.” We know it will take a long time to change dialogue, but it must start somewhere.

Click to watch this video about the Rocky Mountain ADA’s campaign.

Watch for public services announcements at as well as several articles written by our neighbors who are people with disabilities about their thoughts on the “H word.” Also during the next year the Rocky Mountain ADA will launch additional content, new avenues for everyone to share their stories and a social media campaign.

We hope to see you out there as we work hard to empower change. Will you join us? Send us your thoughts, ideas and methods about what you would like tackled as we go down this path together at

It is my sincere hope, that in time, we will see evidence across the country of this movement taking shape.

-Rachael Stafford, Project Director, Rocky Mountain ADA Center.

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