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How To Correctly Refer To People With disability

Your use of language when referring to or talking about people with disability has an impact on the way people with disability feel and the way they are perceived by other people in society.

It is important that you are aware of the meaning behind the words you use when talking to, referring to or working with people with disability. Some terms and language can be a barrier to full participation in society and also can mean people with disability feel hurt and excluded.

People with disability spend a lot of time being described in ways which are disempowering, discriminatory, degrading and offensive. Negative words such as “victim” or “sufferer” reinforce stereotypes that people with disability are unhappy about their lives, wish they were ‘normal’ or should be viewed as an object of pity.

The reality contradicts these outdated stereotypes. People with disability are people first, who have families, work and participate in community activities. Just as people should not be referred to in racially or sexually derogatory terms, people with disability should no longer be referred to in ways that categorise their lives in a simplistic, one-dimensional manner. People with disability want respect and acceptance like every other human on the planet.

Disability acknowledges a person has an impairment or medical condition, but that it is disabling barriers within society – negative attitudes, inaccessible buildings and environments, inaccessible communications and information - which prevent people with disability from being treated equally and from fully participating in all aspects of community life.

Put the person first. Say “person with disability” rather than “disabled person.” Say “people with disability” rather than “the disabled.” A person isn’t defined by their disability – they are a person before anything else.

Be aware that many people with disability dislike euphemistic terms like “physically challenged” and “differently abled.” Say “wheelchair user,” rather than “confined to a wheelchair” or “wheelchair bound.” The wheelchair is what enables the person to get around and participate in society; it’s liberating, not confining.

When talking about places with accommodations for people with disability, use the term "accessible" rather than "disabled" or "handicapped." For example, refer to an "accessible" parking space rather than a "disabled" or "handicapped" parking space.

Use the term "disability" and take the following terms out of your vocabulary when talking about or talking to people with disability. Don't use the terms "handicapped", "differently-abled", "cripple", "crippled", "victim", "retarded", "stricken", "poor", "unfortunate" or "special needs."

Just because someone has a disability, it doesn't mean he/she is "courageous", "brave", "special" or "superhuman." People with disability are the same as everyone else. It is not unusual or unique for someone with disability to have talents, skills and abilities.

Avoid emotive portrayals of people which imply they are to be pitied for living with such a ‘tragedy’ or that they ‘suffer’ from, are ‘afflicted’ with or are a ‘victim’ of disability. The reality is that for many people with disability, it is just a fact of life and not something to be dramaticised or sensationalised.

It is okay to use words or phrases such as "disabled," "disability" or "people with disability" when talking about disability issues. Ask the people you are with which term they prefer if they have a disability.

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  1. I like to refer to myself as someone with low vison or someone who has a visual impairment.


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