Awkward! What Not To Say About Disability

The following is an excerpt from our Disability Marketing Guide.

Because we believe you are committed to helping persons with disabilities, we have bought the guide for you. We hope it helps …

This may be a tricky part: Making sure your messaging and phraseology aligns with your newfound friends. If disability is new to you, it’s quite likely you may have preconceived notions about what a person with a disability looks like, or what they do on a daily basis. There’s no shame in that. 

Honestly, you are operating off what you have absorbed from friends, family and even the media, all common sources for inaccurate details about the disability community to spread. 

In this section, I listed out a few terms to avoid when communicating in any form with the disability community. Some terms may seem more obvious than others, but you might gain a deeper understanding and respect for people who may live a life different than yours. Keep in mind that there is no clear consensus on what words to use and not to use when talking with persons with disabilities. Some people prefer, for example, being referred to as a “disabled person,” others prefer person-first language (person with a disability). Mindfully listening will help you determine what a person prefers. 

Generally speaking, the below words are not accepted when referring to a person with a disability.

Dumb / Crazy / Insane / Batty: Albeist terms once used in everyday language. They tends to focus on our limitations, as well.

Handicapped: This term is used to refer to one who has is disabled. It has since become outdated.

Handicapable: Generally speaking, this is an “ableist” term. This has historically been used to focus on a person’s limitations.

Hearing impairment: an outdated term to describe one who has a limited hearing ability. Use, instead, “hard of hearing” or “deaf.” The National Association of the Deaf states: “Deaf and hard of hearing people have the right to choose what they wish to be called, either as a group or on an individual basis.  Overwhelmingly, deaf and hard of hearing people prefer to be called ‘deaf’ or ‘hard of hearing.’  Nearly all organizations of the deaf use the term ‘deaf and hard of hearing,’”

Gifted: This indicates a disability gives us a special talent, and it casts us as inspirational, which contradicts the preferences of many with disabilities.

Midget: This is an offensive word used to refer to person with a shorter stature. “Whether or not the intention of using the word is to bully and to demean, or just as a synonym for small, the term has been deemed a slur by those within the community and should be eliminated accordingly,” the organization Little People of America released in a statement.

Retarded: As the Special Olympics so bluntly states, “the R-word is a form of hate speech.” This word is very much offensive in the disability community today. You will see later that it used to be a popular word. Times have changed.

Suffers from … / Afflicted with …: These terms suggest “disability” is a bad thing, and that a person with a disability suffers constantly. That’s not so.

Wheelchair bound / Confined to a wheelchair: Outdated terms that suggest a person with a disability is limited to their wheelchair. Not true.

Here are words that are more commonly accepted today: 

Amputee / Person who is an amputee: Both are accepted, and refer to a person who had a bodily extremity removed.

Blind person / Person who is blind: Either works, and refer to a person who does not have 20/20 vision. A blind person usually has no, or very limited vision, while “visually impaired” is a more generic term. I would suggest asking the person for their preferences. They might say they prefer the terms “limited vision,” “low vision,” or “partially sighted,” according to the NCDJ.

Deaf person / Person who is deaf: Describes a person who has limited or no hearing. 

Disabled: Increasingly, over the past few years, individuals with disabilities have referred to themselves as “disabled” or a “disabled person.” This is not universal, so it doesn’t hurt to ask which a person prefers.

Hard of hearing: This describes a person with limited hearing abilities.

Mental illness / mental health condition: Both are accepted when referring to a condition that affects a person’s ability to think, feel, behavior or express moods. It’s generally accepted to say, a person “has a mental illness” or “has anxiety,” but you should what a person prefers.

Person with a disability: This is possibly used as frequently as “disabled,” and it is again circumstantial. Some people prefer “person with a disability” over disabled, because it indicates that they are a person first. 

Uses a wheelchair / wheelchair use: Perfect! I do, yes, use a wheelchair, and I am a wheelchair user. Either terms works. I am not confined to it, or stuck in it. Rather, I just use it, like you use your legs.

If you would like to be a great disability advocate, download my FREE Disability Marketing Guide.

Published by Ryan Wilson

CEO of Team Trust

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