Society

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

Language to avoid

Preferred Language
Crippled, handicapped, special needs people, defective, defect, deformed, vegetable, invalid
Person with a disability
The disabled, the handicapped Persons with disabilities/people
Special needs students Students with disabilities
Cerebral palsied, spinal cord injured People with cerebral palsy, or spinal cord injuries
A victim of, afflicted with, stricken with, suffers from... Person with a disability/spinal cord injury/polio, etc.
The blind Blind person/person with a visual impairment
The deaf Deaf person/person who is hard of hearing, person with a hearing impairment
Defective, defect, deformed, vegetable Person with a disability
Dumb, mute Person who cannot speak, has difficulty speaking, uses synthetic speech
Stutterer, tongue-tied Person with a speech impairment, who has a speech disability, speech disorder, or communication disability
Birth defect Congenital disability, birth anomaly
Deaf and Dumb Deafness, hearing impaired or hard of hearing
Retarded, moron, imbecile, idiot Person who has a mental or developmental disability
Confined/restricted to a wheelchair; wheelchair bound Wheelchair user; Person who uses a wheelchair, crutches, etc.;
Spastic Person with Cerebral Palsy
Epileptic Person with Epilepsy
Healthy, Normal, whole in contrast with “disabled” A person without a disability, able to walk, see, hear, etc.
Handicap parking Accessible parking, parking for people with disabilities