Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Talking About Disability/People First Language


In today's society we find that how people talk about disability is widely varied. Many people wonder what is appropriate and what is not when talking about disability. It is important that as parents we use people first language and help our children to understand and adapt people first language.


What is people first language?

People first language is focusing on the person first and the disability last. The following are some guidelines for talking about disability and developing people first language:

  • Do not refer to a person's disability unless it is relevant.
  • Use "disability" rather than "handicap" to refer to a person's disability. It is okay to say that a person is handicapped by obstacles, such as architectural barriers or the attitudes or ignorant or insensitive people. Never use "cripple/crippled" in any reference of disability
· When referring to a person's disability, try to use "people first" language. In other words, when necessary, it is better to say "person with a disability" rather than "a disabled person" in the first reference. Since "disabled" is an adjective, it is important to avoid ridiculous - and improper - constructions such as "disabled group" or "disabled transportation." Instead, build phrases using the word "disability." For example, "disability activist," or "disability community," are correct and not contradictions to the "people first" ideas.
  • Avoid referring to people with disabilities as "the disabled, the blind, the epileptics, the retarded, a quadriplegic," etc. Descriptive terms should be used as adjectives, not as nouns.
  • Avoid negative or sensational descriptions of a person's disability. Don't say "suffers from," "a victim of," or "afflicted with." Don't refer to people with disabilities as "patients" unless they are receiving treatment in a medical facility. Never say "invalid." These portrayals elicit unwanted sympathy, or worse, pity toward individuals with disabilities. Respect and acceptance is what people with disabilities would rather have.
  • Don't portray people with disabilities as overly courageous, brave, special, or superhuman. This implies that it is unusual for people with disabilities to have talents or skills.
  • Don't use "normal" to describe people who don't have disabilities. It is better to say "people without disabilities" or "typical," if necessary to make comparisons.
  • Never say "wheelchair-bound" or "confined to a wheelchair." People who use mobility or adaptive equipment are, if anything, afforded freedom and access that otherwise would be denied them.
  • Never assume that a person with a communication disorder (speech impediment, hearing loss, motor impairment) also has a cognitive disability, such as mental retardation. On the other hand, people with mental retardation often speak well.
The above bullet points was gathered from the Memphis Center on Independent Living http://www.mcil.org/mcil/mcil/talking.htm

It is important that we think about how we talk about disabilities and examine whether or not we are using people first language. As we develop this way of thinking in ourselves we will be better equipped to help our children develop these habits.

What are your thoughts about this?


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