Disabled People and Terminology ~ Michèle Taylor

Terminology is important, because words reflect our attitudes and beliefs. However, some of the terms we tend to use may not reflect how some disabled people see themselves. Using the right words matters.

This is not about ‘political correctness’ but using wording and language which disabled people and disabled people’s organisations working to promote the social model of disability find acceptable.

Some negative terminology to be avoided includes the following examples

  • Afflicted with This conveys a tragic or negative view about disability.
  • Suffering from This confuses disability with illness and also implies that a disability may be a personal burden. Increasingly, disabled people view their disability as a positive rather that negative experience
  • The blind Lumping everyone together in this way is felt by many to take away their individuality. The most appropriate term to use here is ‘people with visual impairments’, or ‘blind people’
  • Victim of This again plays to a sense that disability is somehow a tragedy
  • Cripple or crippled by Use the term ‘the person has …’
  • Wheelchair bound Disabled people are not tied into their wheelchairs. People are wheelchair users or someone who uses a wheelchair. A wheelchair offers the freedom to move around and is a valuable tool
  • Deaf and dumb This phrase is demeaning and inaccurate. Many deaf people use sign language to communicate and dumb implies that someone is stupid. Use ‘a person with a hearing impairment’, or ‘a deaf person’, or ‘sign language user’
  • The disabled There is no such thing as the disabled. Use the term ‘disabled people’
  • People with disabilities The term ‘disabled people’ is the preferred term within the social model of disability. ‘People with disabilities’ suggests that the disability ‘belongs’ to the disabled person, rather than ‘disabled person’ which accurately infers that society disables the individual, thus adopting the social model of disability
  • Handicapped This term is inappropriate, with images of begging and disabled people being cap in hand
  • Invalid The term literally means not valid
  • Able bodied The preferred term is ‘non-disabled’. ‘Able -bodied’ suggests that all disabilities are physical and ignores unseen disabilities, and that disabled people are not able

Some phrases are perfectly acceptable. People who use wheelchairs do ‘go for a walk’. It is perfectly acceptable to say to a person with a visual impairment ‘I will see you later’. Deaf people are unlikely to take offence at ‘Did you hear about…’ Common everyday phrases of this kind are unlikely to cause offence.

 

Michèle Taylor,
Disability and Equality Consultant and Trainer
www.micheletaylor.co.uk

Adapted from Manchester City Council’s website: www.manchester.gov.uk/disability/language/

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