Language and Stereotypes
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities defines disabilities as "resulting from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others". The stereotypes, negative assumptions and misconceptions
held by the society are one of the many barriers obstructing social inclusion of persons with disabilities. These barriers can be reinforced
by behavior and language which may not seem
important but which can perpetuate assumptions
and cause unnecessary offence to persons with disabilities.
Depending on how it is used language can reinforce
either positive or negative views of disability.
As language is constantly evolving this can
only be a guide to what is preferred.
Generally the preferred language always describes
disabled people in an active rather than a
passive role. For example ‘wheelchair
bound’ portrays a negative image of
the person, while ‘wheelchair user’
is an active term which shifts the emphasis
from the wheelchair to the person.
As with racial and ethnic epithets, the choice
of terms to apply to a person with a disability
is overlaid with stereotypes, patronizing
attitudes, and other emotional connotations.
The two main principles of appropriate terminology are
Never identify people solely by their disability. Phrases such as ''the blind'' or ''the disabled'' do not reflect the individuality of people with disabilities.
Use People First language. Disability is not the defining characteristic of the entire individual. Use phrases such as "persons with disabilities", "a woman with a visual impairment", etc. to accentuate the person, not their disability.
Do’s and Don'ts of Disability Terminology
Crippled, handicapped, special needs people, defective, defect, deformed,
with a disability
|The disabled, the handicapped
||Persons with disabilities/people
|Special needs students
||Students with disabilities
|Cerebral palsied, spinal cord
||People with cerebral palsy,
or spinal cord injuries
|A victim of, afflicted with, stricken with,
a disability/spinal cord injury/polio, etc.
||Blind person/person with a
|| Deaf person/person who is
hard of hearing, person with a hearing impairment
|Defective, defect, deformed,
||Person with a disability
||Person who cannot speak, has difficulty speaking, uses
||Person with a speech impairment, who has a speech
disability, speech disorder, or communication disability
||Congenital disability, birth anomaly
|Deaf and Dumb
||Deafness, hearing impaired
or hard of hearing
|Retarded, moron, imbecile,
||Person who has a mental or
|Confined/restricted to a wheelchair;
||Wheelchair user; Person who
uses a wheelchair, crutches, etc.;
||Person with Cerebral Palsy
||Person with Epilepsy
|Healthy, Normal, whole in contrast
||A person without a disability, able to walk,
see, hear, etc.
||Accessible parking, parking for people with disabilities|