Disability words in Japanese

The other day my mother got me a book called “Japanese short stories for beginners” which basically does what it says on the tin. However in the first story, Ayako, the protagonist, tries to talk to someone, thinks she’s being ignored but then the twist at the end is the woman she was talking to is Deaf and didn’t realise she was being spoken to (and then they go see a subtitled movie together)
nuances of the portrayal of this deaf woman aside (it is just meant to be a short story intended to teach grammar/vocab)
The book uses the term “耳が不自由”
specifically the sentence 「その人は、耳が不自由でした。」which is translated as ‘She was deaf.’ and the specific vocab term in the vocab list is listed as meaning ‘deaf’
When I went to jisho, the term seemed more… general?

Look, I’m autistic (a sentence with different connotations to ‘I have asperger’s’, ‘I’m an aspie’ ‘I’m an autist’ or ‘I have autism’)
I know disability is a tricky path to navigate language-wise even in one’s native language
often things that were considered ‘polite’ are actually more offensive or quickly become outdated
(Whilst autistic people often prefer such language, many people with BPD are dehumanised by doctors by being refered to as ‘borderlines’ or at least last I heard a couple years ago that was where the conversation was)

But I am curious if anyone is able to answer (most helpfully if you know any Japanese disabled people or resources by them)

What are the commonly used terms people refer to themselves with?
Because I feel a dictionary is inadequate for the proper contexts of these things


The general term for people with disabilities that I often see is 障がい者 (しょうがいしゃ). It is sometimes spelled as 障害者, but I believe that nowadays it is considered polite to write the middle kanji in hiragana. 障害 can mean obstacle, so when you write it out in kanji it can kind of read like you’re calling them a hinderance to other people.

I also see 〇〇の不自由 being used to describe specific physical disabilities.


The 害 kanji by itself also means “harm” so that’s also probably a reason.


As part of a community event to connect hearing and deaf/hard of hearing communities, local people came together and watched a movie by a deaf filmmaker about a deaf woman seeking to help and reconnect with her father’s hometown. I think the cast list has the kind of descriptions you’re looking for, although they’re written in 3rd person and not 1st.

At the event, deaf and hard of hearing people were often referred to as ()こえない(かた) if I recall correctly. I’ll try to check the flyer though. I’m pretty sure I have it at home.

The flyer somewhat unhelpful says 「きこえない」に()れる, which I don’t think exactly matched the slides in the presentation


The automated messages about priority seats in trains refer to people with physical disabilities as 体の不自由方 (if my hearing doesn’t deceive me :wink: )


Really close, but you need a particle between 不自由 and 方, more precisely な: