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.

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