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 Right Words

What are the right words to use?

Do you get confused about what are the 'right' words to use when we are talking about disability issues?

Do you feel the language we use is not very important because we do not mean harm by the words we say?

It can sometimes be very difficult trying to always use the 'politically correct' terminology. Often the words associated with disability are very negative, which then leads to a negative view of disability. If we think before we speak (which we should do anyway!) we can help to change many attitudes.

UNACCEPTABLE
THE DISABLED
This makes us sound like an object, and as if we are all identical.
CRIPPLE
This rather innocent term has become stigmatized by its association with either rather evil people, or pathetic victims.
HANDICAPPED
This has doubtful origins, but certainly became attached to the stigma of people who can only live off charity.
INVALID
Look at it...in-valid! It has actually been misread occasionally, so that 'invalid wife' was taken to mean the woman was not properly married! The term invalidates our lives!
UNFORTUNATES / HELPLESS
INCAPACITATED / VICTIMS
Avoid all such negative descriptions.
THE WHEELCHAIR
Used as a reference to a person, for example: "We don't allow wheelchairs into this cafe." Here the person has become the equipment (Possible response could be, "It's me who's hungry, not my wheelchair!").
WHEELCHAIR-BOUND
How many people do you know who are tied up to their wheelchairs? Although a very few people do have to have restraints to stop them falling out, their wheelchair is still their means to freedom (to move about) rather than a prison.
CONFINED TO A WHEELCHAIR
Conjures up the idea of being imprisoned in the wheelchair.
SUFFERER / AFFLICTED / ILLNESS
We have no right to assume that anyone is suffering unless they tell us so. Anyway, it has such a negative impact it stops us from remembering that people with any condition whatsoever are capable of enjoying themselves.
BAD BACK / EYE / ARM ETC.
Bad implies a value judgment, as does the question "What's wrong with your leg?" There is always a more factual alternative, e.g. painful back, weak leg.
DWARF
This word is unacceptable since it is associated with the foolish characteristics depicted in literature and circuses.
SPASTIC
This has become a particularly nasty term of abuse, meant to imply that someone is stupid, even though its origins were simply a direct referral to the spasm of the muscles experienced by some people with cerebral palsy. CP'S/SPAS: these abbreviations are equally unacceptable.
HUNCHBACK
This work has become so thoroughly associated with evil characters that it is totally unacceptable.
DEAF AND DUMB
Deaf people are neither dumb in the sense of being stupid, nor in the sense of being mute. If they don't talk it is because they were born without hearing and have never been able to hear and therefore mimic voices.
HEARING IMPAIRED
However, there is not total agreement on this one because some people, particularly in the deaf community, regard the word 'impaired' as negative.
DEAF AS A POST
This associates people with an object.
BLIND AS A BAT
This associates people with an animal!
DISABLED TOILET
Would you like to sit on a disabled toilet? Chances are it isn't fully functional!
ACCEPTABLE
DISABLED PEOPLE
This is acceptable because one can understand from it that we are disabled by society.
PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES
Some people prefer this because it emphasis's that, first and foremost, we are human beings and should be treated as such.
PHYSICAL/SENSORY IMPAIRMENT
This is used to refer to a condition, rather than the above which are about the social context.
PEOPLE WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
A phrase that can be used for any disabled person.
SERVICE USER
A phrase that can be used for any disabled person who uses a voluntary or statutory service, rather than 'client'.
WHEELCHAIR-USER
These are accurate descriptions, not value judgments.
PERSON IN A WHEELCHAIR
A more factual term.
ESSENTIAL WHEELCHAIR-USER
A small proportion of wheelchair-users cannot transfer onto other seating.
DISABLING CONDITION
This is an accurate description, not a value judgment.
A PAINFUL BACK / DAMAGED EYE / PARALYSED ARM ETC.
These are accurate descriptions, not value judgments.
PEOPLE OF SHORT STATURE OR RESTRICTED GROWTH
This is a more factual description.
PERSON WITH CEREBRAL PALSY
CEREBRAL PALSY / CP
This is the phrase now used instead of 'Spastic'.
SPINAL CURVATURE
This is preferred to 'Hunchback'.
DEAF
People with a high degree of deafness usually like to be called deaf. They feel there is no stigma attached to it and they are proud to be who they are.
HEARING IMPAIRED
Some people, particularly those who are not completely deaf, prefer this phrase.
HARD OF HEARING
This is acceptable, particularly to older people with hearing loss.
BLIND & VISUALLY IMPAIRED
These are acceptable terms. Don't forget that many blind people, though registered blind, do have some limited sight.
AN ACCESSIBLE TOILET OR TOILET FOR DISABLED PEOPLE
This is the proper description for a toilet specifically built / adapted for use by disabled people.

Changing our language is not easy and it would be surprising if you could do so immediately.

However, language is habitual and can be altered like any other habit if we keep trying. Remember: by far the most important thing is that we honour the particular people we are talking to.

Should they express a preference for a term that has been listed as unacceptable, use it when you are with them. However, you might venture to say that you are used to using a different term and why. They may not have heard it or the argument for it, themselves.


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