Respectful Disability Language
What is respectful disability language? Do you use ‘people with disabilities’ or ‘disabled people’? 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. When in doubt, ask what someone prefers. Read about some current thoughts in Why many advocates prefer the term ‘disabled people’ over ‘people with disabilities’.
Avoid using ableist language. This includes words and metaphors that are discriminatory, based on the belief that typical abilities are superior. Learn more in The harmful ableist language you unknowingly use and Why You Need to Stop Using These Words and Phrases.
Avoid using euphemisms.
“Terms like “differently abled,” physically or mentally “challenged,” “exceptional,” and “special needs” are generally well-intended, at least on the surface. But they are so obviously an effort to be kind, or nice, or positive and cheerleading that the effect on actual disabled people can be sentimental and condescending. It’s also an understandable but ultimately wrongheaded effort to promote equality not by elevating disabled people, but in a sense trying to deny the reality of disability as a meaningful concept or experience. As with other marginalized groups, we should know by now that refusing to acknowledge or talk about disability as a real experience doesn’t make life better for disabled people.” – Pulrang, 2020
Find more guidance in Here Are Some Dos and Don’ts Of Disability Language.
Disability Language Style Guides
Here’s a sample of disability language style guides:
- Disability Language Guide – Stanford
- Disability Language Style Guide – National Center on Disability and Journalism
- Disability-inclusive Language Guidelines – UN Geneva
- Language Matters – Mental Health Commission of Canada
- Words Matter: Guidelines on using inclusive language in the workplace – BC Public Service
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Asking and correctly using pronouns shows respect and helps create an inclusive environment.