“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lighting and the lighting bug.” Mark Twain.
Words are potent, and with that comes a great responsibility. People with disabilities forms the largest minority group, most inclusive – all ages, genders, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations and socioeconomic levels. with these we cannot ignore our language use. We cannot afford to be ignorant of the words, terms and our language. What words do people use towards persons with disabilities? Why is there a necessity to use appropriate language?
We use appropriate language for the mere reason that language will definitely shape attitudes and perceptions and in the long run, help avoid perpetuating old stereotypes.
Here are some Dos & Don’ts in terms of langauge use:
• Put the person before the disability, and describe what a person has, not who a person is
Instead of… Say…
He’s Down Syndromed He has Down Syndrome
She’s Learning Disabled She has A Learning Disability
Normal Or Healthy Kids Typical Kids / Kids Without Disabilities
Birth Defect Congenital Disability
Brain Damage Brain Injury
He’s autistic He/she has autism
She’s confined to a whe He/She uses a wheelchair
He’s retarded He/She has an intellectual disability
Handicapped parking Accessible parking
He is a quadriplegic or crippled He has a physical disability
Other tips to remember:
A wheelchair, cane, or any other assistive device used to help a person with a disability is considered part of their personal space and should never be leaned on, picked up, or touched.
When in doubt about offering assistance to a person with a disability, ask “may I help you with that?” If they need help, they will accept it. If they do not, do not take offense. Maybe they are learning a new technique for completing a task, or maybe they just want to see if they can do it. Never help without asking.
Treat adults in a manner befitting adults, regardless of their disability. Call a person by his or her first name only when extending familiarity to all others present. Do not patronize people with disabilities by patting them on the head or hand, or by talking to them in baby talks or touching them.
Ninja Digital Marketer and Blogger based in Nairobi, Kenya. Founder and writer of www.ameru.co.ke and www.frankmwenda.com