Many prefer “disabled people” because it is shorter, easier to type, and reflects an identity. More importantly it explains an understanding that a person may have an impairment. Disability is what happens when the society is designed to exclude people who have impairments, not usually intentionally. Some examples are the tiny fonts people use on the essential bits of their business cards, the indistinct Wellington route signage on the buses, the greying of the Internet and the thoughtless use of language that diminishes disabled people's humanity.
Here are eight points for journalists and broadcasters who want to avoid the pitfalls.
- “Disableist” language is like sexist and racist language and can have the same kind of negative impact on individuals and groups of people.
- Do use the terms disabled people or people with disabilities when talking or writing about us.
- Do use neutral language. A person has a condition, rather than suffering from it, they may use a wheelchair rather than being confined to it. Negatively loaded terms such as “the disabled” or “handicapped” are not neutral and are generally loathed.
- Do talk about a person’s impairment only if it is strictly relevant to the story.
- Do use language correctly – Use of the term schizophrenic when you mean you have a dilemma or feel torn about something is wrong. It means something quite different.
- Do use disability terminology in the right context, not as a term of abuse or insult.
- It is OK to refer to Deaf as Deaf, but culturally and linguistically Deaf are not hard of hearing.
- It is absolutely OK to ask if you are not sure, for example, someone may prefer, if it is necessary, to be referred to as “partially sighted” or “vision impaired” rather than “partially blind.” Others may have their own preferences.
The language we use about others defines us more than them. It is not about being PC, simply about respecting the dignity of other people.