Put the Person Before the Disability

The Disability Information and Insight blog has a wonderful post on how to talk about someone who has a disability. How do you stay "politically correct" when talking about someone? Here's a summery of the article.

"People with disabilities are, first and foremost, people. People with individual abilities, interests and needs. Preferred terminology was developed by the disability community. People First Language is an objective way of acknowledging, communicating and reporting on disabilities. It eliminates generalizations, assumptions and stereotypes by focusing on the person rather than the disability. The concept is clear. You refer to the person first and the disability second."

"Another source says, ^D<"Just as a person may be short or tall, or have dark or light skin, a disability is just one part of what makes up an individual. Whenever possible, avoid labeling a person with a disability, and instead simply use the person^D>'s name. This way, you acknowledge that they are, indeed, people first."

Examples of People First Language:

  • person who has, instead of afflicted or suffers from
  • person with, instead of victim or stricken
  • disability, instead of disabled or handicapped
  • cerebral palsy, instead of palsied, C.P., or spastic
  • retardation, instead of retarded
  • seizure disorder, instead of epileptic
  • without speech or nonverbal, instead of mute or dumb
  • developmental delay, instead of slow
  • learning disability, instead of learning disabled
  • non-disabled, instead of normal or healthy
  • congential disability, instead of birth defect
  • paralyzed, instead of invalid or paralytic
  • has paraplegia (lower body paralysis), instead of paraplegic

Kathie Snow has written on a variety of disability issues, including some well done material on People First Language. She points out that people with disabilities are our largest minority group (one in five Americans). There is a one page chart that lists what to say "Instead of". This chart and her article are also available in Spanish. She also developed a document Same and Different: Respect for All to educate children about People First Language and disability issues with supplementary info for parents and teachers.

Disability-Related Phrases to Learn Before You go Abroad

Would you know how to ask about accessibility, explain that something is damaged on a wheelchair, or request a sign language interpreter in another language? Many people with disabilities going abroad to study, intern, work, volunteer and teach find themselves unable to communicate the most basic needs related to their disability due to a lack of vocabulary. The National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange (NCDE) created Disability-Related Phrases and Vocabulary to Learn Before You Go Abroad to help people with disabilities when they travel.

Click this link to read Disability-Related Phrases and Vocabulary to Learn Before You Go Abroad from the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange.


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