What is the proper way to speak to or about someone who has a disability?
- Use Person First language; describe what the person has, not what a person is. Speak of the person first, then the disability (“your son with a hearing impairment” rather than “your deaf son.”)
- Choice and independence are important; let the person do or speak for him/herself as much as possible.
- Give your undivided attention to some one who has difficulty speaking. Ask short questions, which require short answers. Don’t pretend to understand if you don’t.
- When talking with a person who has a disability, speak naturally and talk directly to that person rather than a companion or interpreter. Talk with the person even if he/she has limited verbal abilities.
- When interacting with a person with a cognitive impairment (mental retardation), use simple, but not childish language, and make instructions clear and concise. Talk to adults as adults, not children.
- When speaking with someone who uses a wheelchair, sit down or kneel to place yourself at their eye level. Do not lean on the wheelchair.
Emphasize abilities, not limitations. Emphasize the person, not the disability.
How do you treat a person with a developmental disability?
Like a person!
A Primer on Person First Language
The way a society refers to its members who have disabilities shapes its beliefs and ideas about them. Our language reflects our attitudes toward diversity. A first step to changing attitudes is changing the way we speak about individuals with developmental differences. Person first language emphasizes the person, not the disability.
Person first language is accurate and shows respect for individual differences. To describe differences accurately and in ways that convey respect, put the person first in word and thought; tell the truth without adding judgment; and don’t include a person’s differences if it’s not relevant to the information you’re sharing.
- Say “People with disabilities” instead of “the disabled”
- Say “Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder” instead of “Autistic child”
- Say Baby with Down syndrome” instead of Down’s baby”
- Say “She uses a wheelchair” instead of “She’s confined to a wheelchair”
- Say “Congenital disability” instead of “Birth defect”
- Say “Accessible parking” instead of “Handicapped Parking”
"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug." -Mark Twain
Think of the image that is created by the language used. A person who has cerebral palsy is not a “CP victim.” Someone who has muscular dystrophy is not “stricken by muscular dystrophy.” Words like “victim, stricken, suffers from” promote negative images. When we understand the meanings of words and how they’re misused, we realize they are the tip of the iceberg of inappropriate language and false perceptions.
Labels are extremely powerful. Don’t let a person’s disability become his label. The only label a person needs is their name. Instead of labels, think of all people in terms of their strengths and abilities. The words we use must convey this message.