Are you an 'AB' or a 'PWD'?: A Paralympic glossary

Over the next two weeks, you will hear more words bandied about to describe disabled people than perhaps ever before. But how do you separate the acceptable from the downright offensive?


Perhaps the most common. Some prefer "person with a disability", or "PWD", to ensure the individual is emphasised not the disability. Paralympic organisers opt for "people with an impairment". Another is "differently abled".


An oldie, and not a goodie. Stems from "hand in cap", a game in which players acccepted or rejected an object's valuation by bringing their hands, full or empty, out of a cap of money. Now confined to use as a technical term in sports such as horse-racing and golf.


You're unlikely to hear "cripple" on Channel 4, any time soon. Yet, just as "queer" has been appropriated by some gay activists, "crip" is used by some disabled people as a term of political empowerment.


A humorous term disabled people might use to turn the tables on the "able-bodied". You might say: "Wow, this bar is full of ABs."


Channel 4 asks us to "meet the superhumans" in its emotive TV Paralympics promotion. While this might capture the high level of physicality, stamina and strength displayed by the Paralympic athletes, some believe this sort of approach aggressively champions the exclusivity of the event.

(With thanks to Louise Hickman, disability consultant)

Sarah Morrison

All-time greats

Trischa Zorn, US


Active 1980-2004

Medals 32 Gold, 9 Silver and 5 Bronze

The Californian, blind since birth, is the most decorated Paralympian. Born in 1964, she won seven golds at her first Games, and came out of retirement for Athens 2004 to win bronze (100m backstroke).

Franz Nietlispach, Switzerland


Active 1976-2008

Medals 14G, 6S, 1B

Nietlispach became paraplegic in 1973, aged 15, after falling from a tree. A wheelchair athlete and handcyclist, he has taken gold in events from the 100m to the marathon. .

Jonas Jacobsson, Sweden


Active 1980-present

Medals 16G, 1S, 8B

At his first Games, in 1980, wheelchair-user Jacobsson, then 15, won silver and bronze. Since, the rifle-man has won 17 World and 22 European championships. In 2004, he set three world records on his way to three golds. He is Sweden's standard-bearer.

Esther Vergeer, The Netherlands

Wheelchair tennis

Active 2000-present

Medals 5G 1S

Vergeer, who became paraplegic aged eight after spinal surgery, has been world No 1 since 1999. She has not been beaten in singles since January 2003 (465 matches).

Christopher Scott, Australia


Active 1988-2008

Medals 6G, 2S, 2B

Born with cerebral palsy in 1968, Scott competed in seven-a-side football (1988), athletics (1992), and won golds in 1996 and 2000 in road cycling before taking to track, winning team sprint and individual pursuit in 2004 and again in 2008.

Source: International Paralympic Committee

Robert Epstein

Don't panic!

A little bewildered by the prospect of all those disabled people leaping out? Peter Mitchell, who performs in I'm Spazticus, a Channel 4 sketch show, offers some words to the wise...

Does that elite-level athlete look like a victim to you?

I was a professional footballer and I broke my back in a car crash. Since then I have trained with the GB wheelchair basketball team. These are serious athletes. The Games will be an opportunity to show that disabled people aren't victims. If I go into a shop, or get into my car, someone always says, 'Oh, I'll help you'. Whenever I fall out of my chair, it always seems to be in front of an elderly woman who screams in panic. It's fine, I just get back in. In wheelchair basketball, you'll see people falling out of their chair all the time and getting back in. The Paralympians will show they don't need anyone's help.

Prepare to have your mind blown!

The public knew what to expect in the Olympics. We knew Usain Bolt and understood all the athletes. But with the Paralympics, 99 per cent of the public will not have a clue what's going on. It's going to blow their minds. The Games haven't even started yet and there have been chances to change the way people think. The comedy show I've been in, I'm Spazticus, is written by and stars disabled people. The title made people assume Channel 4 were mocking the disabled. But it was us challenging the public. Before, if you saw a man in a wheelchair or a blind man on TV, it was always a sad story. We wanted to make people laugh.

Don't come over all politically correct…

Don't worry about how to talk about these athletes. When it comes to disability, people are far too politically correct. Of course you can say someone is blind or in a wheelchair, because they are.

Emily Dugan

Meet the experts

In 2010, Channel 4 launched a £500,000 talent search to find brilliant new disabled sports reporters to be part of their Paralympic team. Here's a guide to the new faces who'll be presenting alongside the likes of Clare Balding, Jon Snow and Jonathan Edwards ….

Arthur Williams, Age 27

A former Royal Marine, and a trained pilot, Williams has competed professionally in wheelchair racing and handcycling. He was even part of the British Cycling Paralympic development squad, before opting for a presenting role.

Daraine Mulvihill, 30

Mulvihill, who lost the use of her legs aged 16 after contracting meningitis, has presented for the BBC, Irish broadcaster RTE, and Sky Sports, but she says the Paralympics will be a "dream job". She is award-winning herself: in 2001, Mulvihill was crowned Irish Person of the Year, no less!

Rachael Latham, 24

As a world record holder, Latham knows what she is talking about: she competed in the Beijing Paralympics in 2008, and holds the record for 50m butterfly. Since quitting the pool due to injury in 2010, Latham has reported the Paralympics World Cup.

Alex Brooker, 29

Sports journalist from Leeds, and fanatical footie fan. He has written for the Liverpool Echo, the Press Association, and is chief writer on the official Paralympics guide. He's looking forward to some "showbiz parties with Channel 4.…"

Liam Holt, 28

Make sure you catch Holt's basketball commentary: as coach and captain of Cardiff Celts wheelchair team, he knows his hoops. Having worked as a researcher on all four series of That Paralympic Show, he's no stranger to TV either.

Martin Dougan, 25

Dougan, a carpenter, is also handy on the basketball court with the Lothian Phoenix wheelchair club. He has been presenting for Channel 4 since its talent search and hopes the 2012 coverage will be a "leap forward" for the Paralympics.

Jordan Jarrett-Bryan, 28

Another wheelchair basketball whizz-kid, Jarrett-Bryan played at national level for 15 years, and was twice European champion with the GB junior team. He's also worked as a journalist for youth publications – and he's handy as a drum 'n' bass DJ.

Diana Man, 29

Eighteen years ago, Man broke the under-12s 70m hurdles record – it still stands. But she lost her legs to meningococcal septicaemia at the age of 25, and today her main passion is horses. Man competes as well as commentates on para dressage.

Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
people70-year-old was most famous for 'You are So Beautiful'
Life and Style
fashionOne man takes the hipster trend to the next level
John Rees-Evans is standing for Ukip in Cardiff South and Penarth
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'