How Do You Say “People with Disabilities” in Japanese? (2023)

How Do You Say “People with Disabilities” in Japanese? (1)

The Japanese language consists of two writing systems known as hiragana and katakana based on Chinese characters. Together, they’re known as kana. Hiragana and katakana are easily pronounced just like the English alphabet. Chinese characters have meanings. They also have certain emotions or feelings attached in a way that basic or simple letters do not.

The way the Japanese language references people with disabilities has varied over time. At the moment, it describes people with disabilities in one of three ways. This article dives into each of the three ways to write this word and the opinions on each one.

3 Ways Japanese Says “People with Disabilities”

In Japanese, “People with disabilities” is “障がい者 (Sho-gai-sha).” “障がい(Sho-gai)” means disability and “者(sha)” means person. You can write this word in three different ways with the same pronunciation: “shou-gai-sha” All three options start with shou, but the second character has different interpretations.

  1. 障害者 (害: interfere)
  2. 障碍者 (碍: hindrance)
  3. 障がい者 (phonetic)

The meaning of each character is as follows.

All three start with “障 (Shou)”:

  1. To be in the way
  2. Something that prevents or separates.

Here are the search engine results for each word:

  • First word: 447 million
  • Second word: 195 million
  • Third word: 78 million

The first is the original word, but the third is trending up more than the second according to Google Trends. It looks like people are gradually shifting from first to third.

People disagree on which is the most appropriate for everyday use. In 2010, the Japanese Cabinet Office published “Results of a Study on the Use of the Term ‘障害 (shogai) — Disability.” It looks like everyone has a different opinion about which word gives the impression of the social model instead of the medical model of disability.

Here’s a quick recap on social and medical models of disability. The social model believes society puts up barriers for people with disabilities. The medical model wants to fix or cure the person’s disability.

(Video) Japan’s History Segregating People with Disabilities

According to the report, in the 1600s, people used the second Japanese word for “disability.” It comes from a Buddhist term meaning “a demon interfering / being an obstacle.” Around the 20th century, the first term replaced it. And the religious connotation has since been lost.

The Cabinet Office collected opinions on the three words from the general public, private companies, mass media, NPOs, and local governments.

The First Method: Interfere

The first method 障害 (interfere) contains these components:

障 (Shou): 1. To be in the way, 2. something that prevents or separates.

害 (Gai): 1. Misfortune, disaster, 2. interfere, damage, worsen, 3. attack, hurt.

“The cause of limitations on the social participation of people with disabilities does not lie in their impairment,” writes Japan National Assembly of Disabled Peoples’ International (DPI-Japan). “But instead, it lies in the relationship between impairment and the barriers created in society. Thus, people with disabilities themselves are not 害 (gai) obstacles or harms. Instead, it is the many obstacles and barriers in society that have created people with disabilities ‘shougaisha’. For the time being, we should focus on reforming the system and shifting the concept of disability from a medical model to a social model.”

So, the organization thinks people’s perspective on the word needs to change. Therefore, they want to keep the word but reclaim a positive perception of it.

There were positive reactions, but the people with disability’s organization Tokyo Aoishiba no Kai had a different viewpoint:

“The letter #1 害 (gai) is used in words like pollution, harm, pest, murder, and many other bad words. The letter has contributed to the bad perceptions that the existence of people with disabilities is harmful.”

(Video) ADAPT - Living with Disabilities in Japan

The Second Method: Hindrance

The second method: 障碍 (hindrance) consists of the following two parts:

障 (Shou): 1. to be in the way 2. something that prevents or separates.

碍 (Gai): 1. to hinder; 2. to support.

“The word 碍 (Gai) means ‘barrier’ or ‘hurdle’ … We believe that society is forming a ‘hurdle’ and that it is necessary to raise awareness to all the people to remove these hurdles,” writes Tokyo Aoishiba no Kai. “In China, Korea, Taiwan, and other countries where Chinese characters are used, ‘shougai’ is written as #2 障碍. While the word #1 障害 (shougai) is the medical model, the word #2 障碍 (shougai) is the social model.”

By the way, the letter 碍 is not commonly recognized in Japan as much as these other countries, so it does not effectively convey the message. DPI and Asahi Shimbun, a mass media company, argue in favor of that.

“The reason for changing from #1 to #2 may be because #1 害 (gai) gives a bad impression and should not be used for people,” says DPI. “However, #2 碍 may be subject to the same or more critique than #1 because of the ‘demon’ etymology.”

“Since 碍 is not a typically used character, the general public may not understand the meaning,” states Asahi Shimbun. “It is essential to discuss emotional factors and how people perceive them, not just the meaning of the characters.”

The Third Method

The third method “障がい (Shou-gai)” means the following:

障 (Shou): 1. To be in the way 2. something that prevents or separates.

(Video) Physical Disability and the Politics of Inclusion in Contemporary Japan

がい (Gai) written in Hiragana. It can mean either 害 or 碍. Hiragana is a syllabary like English alphabets.

As of this writing, local governments, private companies, and many other organizations support the third option.

“As it turned out that some people feel uncomfortable due to the negative connotation of the word #1害 (gai), we as Iwate prefecture decided to change the word #1 to #3 in administrative documents,” writes Iwate Prefecture, a local government organization. “So far, we have not received any complaints.”

“The word #1 害 has a negative image of causing harm to others,” states Sony Corporation. “Taking the opinions of local governments, many other private companies, and various organizations into consideration, we decided to replace #1 with #3. However, if a more appropriate expression appears in the future, we will change it accordingly.”

Still, this wording doesn’t make everybody happy.

“Replacing ideographic Chinese characters with hiragana will make it difficult for the general public to perceive the word’s true meaning,” explains Tokyo Aoishiba no Kai. “The meaning of ‘society is creating barriers’ and ‘confronting barriers’ will be lost.”

“The idea of changing the word from #1 to #3 on the grounds that it is inappropriate to use the word #1 害 to refer to people is based on the individual model (medical model) that the cause of limitations on social participation of people with disabilities is their functional impairment,” states DPI Japan Council.


The Japanese Cabinet Office has conducted a survey and these are its findings.

It seems like it is impossible to come to a conclusion that makes everyone happy. However, in doing this research, I found one thing in common with all comments. That is, there is a medical model and a social model of disability, and everyone is looking for a word that fits the social model.

(Video) JAPAN National Rehabilitation Center for Person with Disabilities【英語版】

Indeed, some people believe in the medical model. Nonetheless, if people understood disability as a social model, it might compel more people to take action to remove barriers. If discussion about the third term (shogai) “disability” can create such a change in consciousness, then this discussion is worthwhile.

Whichever word the government chooses or whatever new words emerge in the future, I hope that society becomes a place where everyone accepts the social model and feels the need to remove those barriers. Maybe we can start the change just by thinking about the use of language.

For now, I will use the third term because the first has a bad connotation and leaves me with an uncomfortable feeling when I see it. And as a Japanese speaker, I don’t see the second option anywhere else. Thus, it doesn’t make much sense. The third is just easy to read. And finally, while writing this article, Google Docs kept auto-suggesting the third.

How Do You Say “People with Disabilities” in Japanese? (2)

Business Manager in Japan | Kyoto

(Video) JAPAN National Rehabilitation Center for Person with Disabilities【English subtitles】

Business Manager for Equal Entry's operations in Japan and work to evangelize the company, establish new business partnerships, and create success.


What is the correct way to say someone has a disability? ›

Emphasize the individual not the disability. Rather than using terms such as disabled person, handicapped people, a crippled person, use terms such as people/persons with disabilities, a person with a disability, or a person with a visual impairment.

How does Japan view disability? ›

Every person with disability, as a member of the society, shall be entitled opportunities to participate in social, economic, cultural and all other activities in the society. No one shall be allowed to discriminate against persons with disabilities or violate their rights and benefits on the basis of disability.

How do you react when you see people with disabilities and underprivileged? ›

General Etiquette Tips
  • Practice the Golden Rule. Treat everyone as you would like to be treated. ...
  • Always Ask Before Giving Assistance. Just because a person has a disability, they don't necessarily need or want your assistance. ...
  • Think Before You Speak. ...
  • Avoid Showing Pity or Being Patronizing.

Is calling a disabled person a vegetable? ›

See entry on afflicted with . Vegetable: Use people-first language, such as “a person in a vegetative state.” Avoid referring to someone as a vegetable or “veg” as such words dehumanize the person. See entry on vegetative state/comatose/non-responsive .

Is disability a rude word? ›

It is okay to use words or phrases such as “disabled,” “disability,” or “people with disabilities” when talking about disability issues. Ask the people you are with which term they prefer if they have a disability.

Is cripple a slur? ›

The term cripple came into common usage around 950AD. While cripple appeared to describe someone with a physical disability, it eventually became a slur focused on people deemed ugly due to a physical disability. The use of crip, as a slur, was not limited to people.

Is Japan friendly for people with disabilities? ›

Disability rights and policy in Japan have seen drastic reforms since the 1960s when the lack of rights of disabled people at the time began to be recognised as an issue by both the government and the general public. These rights are protected by both international law and domestic law.

Is Japan disability friendly? ›

Older buildings in Japan tend to have narrow interior layouts. Consequently, older shops and restaurants may be difficult to enter and navigate with wheelchairs due to the lack of space and presence of steps. Modern buildings and malls; however, tend to be highly accessible.

How does Japan treat their disabled? ›

Disabled Persons' Fundamental Law

The law designates responsibilities for the government and people towards citizens with disabilities in Japan. The law states that the dignity of all disabled people should be respected and they should be given full opportunities to participate in society.

Why do some people feel uncomfortable talking to a disabled person? ›

According to research by Scope in 2014, “67% of people feel uncomfortable when talking to a disabled person.” This awkwardness often stems from a fear of seeming patronizing or saying the wrong thing, or a lack of life experiences with individuals with disabilities.

What do disabled people call themselves? ›

A person isn't a disability, condition or diagnosis; a person has a disability, condition or diagnosis. This is called Person-First Language.
3. In general, refer to the person first and the disability second.
UseDon't Use
Person with a disability, people with disabilitiesDisabled person; the disabled
4 more rows

What is Ableist language? ›

Ableist language is any word or phrase that devalues people who have a disability. Though often inadvertent, ableist language suggests that people with disabilities are abnormal.

Is fruit a word? ›

The word Fruit is a noun. The word is an exception where the noun is both countable and uncountable. So the plural of Fruit can be either Fruit OR Fruits. When we think of Fruit as a group collectively and in a non-specific way, then we tend to use the word Fruit (without S).

What is identity first language? ›

Person first language emphasizes the person before the disability, for example “person who is blind” or “people with spinal cord injuries.” Identity first language puts the disability first in the description, e.g., “disabled” or “autistic." Person first or identify first language is equally appropriate depending on ...

What do you call special needs kids? ›

What you should be saying instead. The National Center on Disability and Journalism recommends never using it: "Our advice: avoid the term 'special needs. ' Disabled is acceptable in most contexts, but we advise asking the person to whom you're referring what they prefer."

Is autism a disability? ›

Autism is a neurological developmental disability with an estimated prevalence of one to two percent of the American and worldwide population. The diversity of the disability means that each person's individual experience of autism and needs for supports and services can vary widely.

What are slur words? ›

: an insulting or disparaging remark or innuendo : aspersion. : a shaming or degrading effect : stain, stigma.

What does Crip time mean? ›

Crip time: A concept arising from disabled experience that addresses the ways that disabled/chronically ill and neurodivergent people experience time (and space) differently than able-bodyminded folk.

Who invented the word cripple? ›

The word was recorded as early as 950 AD, and derives from the Proto-Germanic krupilaz. The German and Dutch words Krüppel and kreupel are cognates.

Are disabilities taboo in Japan? ›

Physical and mental handicaps have long been a taboo subject in Japan, where the ideal of normalcy is stubbornly clung to regardless of circumstances.

Which country is best for special needs? ›

So, in this article, we'll take a look at some of the countries which best support those with intellectual disabilities.
  • What is an Intellectual Disability? ...
  • 6 Countries That Are Doing Well with Special Educational Needs. ...
  • The Netherlands. ...
  • The United Kingdom. ...
  • Denmark. ...
  • Cyprus. ...
  • Canada. ...
  • New Zealand.

Which country has best disabled access? ›

Spain. Spain is one of the most wheelchair friendly countries in the world, with Barcelona in particular standing out for its accessibility. Many of the streets have been adapted to be more wheelchair accessible, including the historical cobblestoned areas.

Do they have autism in Japan? ›

Social support: Most autistic adults in a cohort in Yokohama, Japan, have some autonomy and friends, but less than half are employed. Most autistic children in Japan grow up to live somewhat independently as adults, engage in community activities and form friendships, according to a new longitudinal study.

How much does disability pay in Japan? ›

You are paid 60% of your salary loss, up to a maximum of JPY1,500,000 per month. If you are paid while still receiving benefits from Tosho-kenpo, the benefit amount from long term disability will be adjusted to cover only 60% of actual salary loss. Benefit are payable up to age 65.

What percentage of Japan is disabled? ›

Finally, the total number of disabled people will be drawn after analyzing the surveys conducted in Japan. Our measures are promoted based on the following 4 basic concepts.
1. Estimated Number of Disabled Persons.
Total Number5,136,500 (about 4.3% of total Japanese Population)
Mentally disabled persons1,570,000
2 more rows

Is Tokyo disability friendly? ›

Most of buildings and department stores have good wheelchair accessibility. Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, a famous large park with beautiful gardens, is wheelchair accessible. Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is also wheelchair accessible. Visitors enjoy the landscape from the 45th floor without charge.

How many people are disabled in Japan? ›

There are approximately 6.5 million persons with disabilities in Japan, out of a population of approximately 127 million, according to national survey data.
Prevalence of Disability.
CharacteristicJapanUnited States
As a percentage of public pension costs--16.40
27 more rows

What does SSI mean in Japan? ›

Social Security System in Japan.

What is the difference between a disabled person and a person with a disability? ›

In a nutshell, person-first language is where the person comes before the disability such as a 'person with a disability' or 'person with autism'. And identity-first language is where the disability comes before the person such as 'disabled person' or 'autistic person'.

What does the Bible say about disabilities? ›

Disability is attributed to God. The general view of the Old Testament writers is that God brings disability as punishment for transgressions for sin or as an expression of God's wrath for people's disobedience.

Is it rude to ask a disabled person if they need help? ›

Just because someone has a disability, do not assume they need help. Do not give assistance without asking first if they want it. You can ask if the person would like help, but don't ask repeatedly or qualify their response with “are you sure?” Respect someone's choice even if it looks like they're struggling.

Do disabled people feel pain? ›

There is now abundant evidence that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) experience acute and chronic pain with at least the same frequency as the rest of the population. Pain assessment tools are available to be used routinely to detect and monitor pain in individuals with IDD.

Why do disabled people feel lonely? ›

That people with disabilities are more than twice as likely to feel lonely than people without disabilities. People may feel lonely because they do not have a job. Having a job gives people others to talk to and money to spend in the community. Another reason for loneliness may be having trouble going places.

What makes a disabled person strong? ›

A disabled person who practices kindness often is mentally stronger than other individuals. That is because he understands and knows the use of sympathy, empathy, and compassion, even when everything seems so wrong.

Should disabled people feel sorry? ›

Persons with disabilities are not looking for people to feel sorry for them and have pity on them. We appreciate people who have compassion and want to assist us through our journey in life.. However, showing pity does not help us feel appreciated and fully part of the world around us.

Can disabled people feel pleasure? ›

People with spinal cord injuries have reported experiencing great pleasure from stimulation in areas like the arms, earlobe, neck, cheek and nipple – so much so that it can even lead to orgasm! A lot of sexual pleasure is about what happens in the brain too.

Do people respect disabled people? ›

People with disabilities are people first and foremost. People with disabilities should be treated with the same respect as people without disabilities.

What is disabled short for? ›

DIB, SSI, SSDI: Common Disability Abbreviations, Defined.

How do you talk to disability? ›

When referring to disability, the American Psychological Association (APA) urges that it is often best to "put the person first." In practice, this means that instead of referring to a "disabled person," use "person with a disability." Why?

Is dyslexia a disability? ›

Substantial is defined as 'more than trivial'. Therefore, as dyslexia is a lifelong condition and has a significant impact on a person's day-to-day life, it meets the criteria of a disability and is covered by The Equality Act 2010.

What can I say instead of crazy? ›

Synonyms of crazy
  • insane.
  • bizarre.
  • absurd.
  • foolish.
  • unreal.
  • strange.
  • fantastic.
  • fantastical.

Is the word dummy ableist? ›

People-first language would be like the following: Person with disabilities.
TermsMeanings or possible impactsSuggestions
dummySame as above.When describing an inanimate display form, try mannequin, model, or decoy.
13 more rows

Is saying tone deaf ableist? ›

This blog post has an extensive list of ableist terms and their alternatives. A couple of examples are “tone deaf” (instead use insensitive or out of context) or “blind spot” (instead use unconscious bias).

What is the plural of sky? ›

sky (plural skies)

Is cucumber a fruit? ›

The botanical classification: Cucumbers are fruit.

A botanical fruit would have at least one seed and grow from the flower of the plant. With this definition in mind, cucumbers are classified as fruit because they contain tiny seeds in the middle and grow from the flower of the cucumber plant.

Is Avocado a fruit? ›

Avocados are one of the few fruits (yes, technically they're a fruit, not a veggie) that contain healthy unsaturated fats. These fats help lower undesirable LDL cholesterol when eaten in place of saturated fat. The popular Haas avocado, which has dark-green, nubby skin, grows year-round in California.

Which country is described as best for people with disabilities? ›

So, in this article, we'll take a look at some of the countries which best support those with intellectual disabilities.
  • What is an Intellectual Disability? ...
  • 6 Countries That Are Doing Well with Special Educational Needs. ...
  • The Netherlands. ...
  • The United Kingdom. ...
  • Denmark. ...
  • Cyprus. ...
  • Canada. ...
  • New Zealand.

What is the biggest problem that Japan faces? ›

Looking into 2022, Japan's economy faces several challenges, like keeping the economic recovery going, diversifying investments away from China, and addressing demographic problems.

What is Japanese syndrome? ›

Abstract. A form of severe social withdrawal, called hikikomori, has been frequently described in Japan and is characterized by adolescents and young adults who become recluses in their parents' homes, unable to work or go to school for months or years.

Does Japan have autism? ›

Social support: Most autistic adults in a cohort in Yokohama, Japan, have some autonomy and friends, but less than half are employed. Most autistic children in Japan grow up to live somewhat independently as adults, engage in community activities and form friendships, according to a new longitudinal study.

Why is the age 88 Special in Japan? ›

In Japanese culture, the 88th birthday, or “Beiju” (米寿), is known as the long life celebration. Beiju is a play on the kanji characters for rice and 88. “Bei” (rice米) is important in Japanese society because it sustains life and represents purity and wholesomeness.

What is the Number 1 disability in the world? ›

The World Bank/WHO folks sought out tabulations of people who have trouble seeing, hearing, walking, remembering, taking care of themselves or communicating. Worldwide, the most common disability in people under the age of 60 is depression, followed by hearing and visual problems.

What language is preferred by people with disabilities? ›

What is preferred? 'People first' language emphasizes the individual, focusing on the person rather than the disability. 'Identity first' language acknowledges disability as central to a person's identity. 'People first' language is often recommended, but 'identity first' language is preferred by some now.

What race has the most special needs? ›

In general, students of color are disproportionately overrepresented among children with disabilities: black students are 40 percent more likely, and American Indian students are 70 percent more likely, to be identified as having disabilities than are their peers.

What city is the most disability friendly? ›

Best & Worst Cities for People with Disabilities
Overall RankCityOverall Score
1Minneapolis, MN56.63
2Pittsburgh, PA56.02
3St. Louis, MO56.00
4Columbia, MD55.98
61 more rows
27 Sept 2022

How quiet is Japan? ›

If you've been to Japan, you're likely as astonished as I am to learn that the World Health Organization recently reported Japan to be the world's noisiest country. Chiara Terzuolo, Japan Today, writes: [T]he WHO recommends avoiding being exposed to noise over 53 decibels.

What are some weaknesses of Japan? ›

Weaknesses: A decline in birth rate and hike in aging population leads to economic debt. Japan has far too many people for its little island. Most populations congregate in major cities, like Tokyo, because much of the island is inhabitable.

Why did Japan stop growing? ›

The aging meant slower growth of the labor force. The aging and the declining fertility also reduced the domestic saving that supported economic expansion during the rapid economic growth period. The end of catch-up phase, globalization, and the rapid aging together created a major challenge to the Japanese economy.


1. 10 Things Everybody Should Know About Interacting With People Living With Disabilities
(Center for Human Rights in Iran)
2. Young people with disabilities
(World Scouting)
3. Traveling to Japan with a Disability - Part 3
4. Accessing Employment in Japan with Mizuki Hsu
(Rooted In Rights)
5. Making Your E-Learning Courses Accessible for Those With Disabilities
(E-Learning Uncovered)
6. Physical Disability in Japan - Director's Commentary
(Life Where I'm From X)
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