Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists


News & Publications

Is it a Person with Diabetes or a Diabetic?

Mar 12, 2013

Am I being too sensitive?  Or, am I being proper and politically correct?  Imagine me now jumping up onto my soap box. 

I really struggle when I hear someone saying “diabetic” when talking about another person.  I learned over 30 years ago, when I was in my first semester of physical therapy school, that it wasn’t proper to call someone by a disease or disorder.  We don’t say paraplegic, we say a person with paraplegia. Similarly, we don’t say quadriplegic for a person with quadriplegia; stroke victim for a person who had a stroke; Parkinson’s patient for a person with Parkinson’s disease; or diabetic for a person with diabetes.  This was long before the notion of being politically correct and long before the terminology of person-first language.  It was just the right thing to do.  It shows empathy.  It shows that we see a person first, ahead of the disease or disorder. When I teach the PT students in our program, I reinforce this.  I don’t have to teach it; they have already been taught. 

Diabetic should be reserved for descriptions of things and as an adjective.  It is correct and acceptable to say diabetic neuropathy or diabetic socks or diabetic medications.  It is not proper to say a word ending in “ic” as a noun; “______ is a diabetic.”  It labels a person by a disease.  It can carry negative connotations.  It just doesn’t seem appropriate. It does take a little longer to say “a person with diabetes.”  It has become common to abbreviate to PWD in the written word.  That seems like a good option to me.  What do you think? 

At times, when I have said this to someone who calls another a diabetic, I hear “But that is what he/she calls him/herself.”  Fine, it is a person’s prerogative to identify her/himself however they choose.  It doesn’t mean it is acceptable for anyone else to assume it is all right.

Recently, I was reviewing the new ADA standards in the 2013 Diabetes Care supplement, and there it was!  “Some patients cannot be clearly classified as type 1 or type 2 diabetic,” “diabetic woman,” “diabetic patient,” etc.  I do remember a few years back hearing of a study published that reported the results of a questionnaire asking people with diabetes if it was okay to be called a diabetic, reporting that it was.  Does this mean we assume everyone with diabetes is okay with it?  I would rather be safe than sorry.

What do you think?  Am I being too sensitive?  Or, am I being proper/sensitive/politically correct?

In This Section

News & Publications