I was just at the mall the other day and I heard a woman giving her partner heck for parking in the “handicapped” stall, which she said was horrible because there are lots of other parking spots for “normal” people. Then I was watching tv and it seemed like every second word was inappropriate – They were referring to people as “crazy” and “psycho”, and I even heard the “R-word” once!
Words matter! For people with disabilities, words like these make us feel less important and inferior to others. But what are the correct words to use? Here are a few tips:
What’s Best: Person-First or Identity-First Language?
There are two viewpoints on which type of language is more inclusive. I prefer that others acknowledge the person first, rather than the disability because I feel that it shows respect for the individual and doesn’t put the focus on the disability. For example, saying that I am a person with epilepsy rather than an epileptic person to me feels much more respectful.
Having said that though, some people with disabilities prefer identity-first language, such as saying “autistic person” or “deaf person”, as they feel that their disability is a big part of their identity so the disability should come first.
It really is a matter of personal preference and it is always best to ask what the person’s preference is.
What Words Should Be Used? Take This Quiz to Find Out!
Most of us don’t mean to hurt people with the words that we use – we may just inadvertently say something that we didn’t even realize was offensive. Words come with all sorts of connotations, so before I comment further on this, why don’t you quiz yourself to see what you think about the statements that are found in the quiz below that I created? Decide whether each statement in the quiz should be a thumbs-up statement, because it uses inclusive language or a thumbs-down statement, because there are better words that could be used. Once you have decided, click the mouse to find out more. Here is the QUIZ LINK.
How did you do? As you can see from the quiz, there are many words to describe people with disabilities that should be avoided as they promote the stigma of people with a disability being less able than other people.
How Can One Build Belonging?
By using words that empower people, rather than knocking them down, we can make the world a better place, especially for those in marginalized groups. Belonging is such an important part of creating change and making the most of everyone’s abilities and gifts. The words we use can make all the difference to building this sense of belonging.
Do You Want to Learn More?
I encourage you to read more about this topic. I know from personal experience that the words people use can either make me feel included or excluded and that people often don’t even realize they are excluding me with their language. Check out these resources if you’d like to learn more – the disability community will thank you!
Disability Inclusive Language Guidelines – UN Geneva
Words Matter – Guidelines on Using Inclusive Language in the Workplace – BC Government
Inclusive Language Resources – University of BC