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Published: October 3, 2013
Disability Etiquette in News Headlines


Someone who has made a name for himself in the extreme sports environment and performed many firsts from his wheelchair, including a backflip, double backflip and front flip doesn’t sound “stricken” to me.  The media is in a unique position to shape the public image of people with disabilities. The words they choose to use can create insensitive, negative images or a straightforward positive view of people with disabilities. One aspect that much of the media tends to forget is person-first language. It’s not only appropriate to say “person with a disability” instead of “the disabled” or “handicapped,” it’s also just basic respect. The disability does not define the person, no more than skin color or religion. Below are actual headlines that were pulled from news outlets worldwide:Don’t: Down syndrome man, 34, left on Bergen County bus for hours in Lodi garageDo: Student With Down Syndrome Named to Rochester Homecoming CourtDon’t: Wheelchair-bound Seymour man challenges selectmen to ‘wheel’ in my shoesDo: No Go Britain: wheelchair user wins landmark victoryDon’t: Deaf writer Sophie Woolley’s cochlear implant regained her hearingDo: Woman, deaf since 2, hears for first timeWhile I believe that many journalists and reporters use incorrect language when describing a person with a disability because of the need to be concise in headlines and descriptions, I also believe that many simply don’t know they are being offensive. Below is a guide that will assist anyone in the correct, person-first language for describing a person with a disability. The guide will continue to evolve as the disability community does.  
You are in a unique position to shape the public image of people with disabilities. By putting the person first and using these suggested words, you can convey a positive, objective view of an individual instead of a negative, insensitive image.
Do sayDon’t say
DisabilityDifferently abled, challenged
People with disabilitiesThe disabled, handicapped
Person with spinal cord injuryCripple
Person with Down syndromeMongoloid
Person of short statureMidget, dwarf
Uses a wheelchair, wheelchair userConfined to a wheelchair, wheelchair-bound
Has a learning disabilitySlow learner
Has chemical or environmental sensitivitiesChemophobic
Has a brain injuryBrain damaged
Blind, low visionVisually handicapped, blind as a bat
Deaf, hard of hearingDeaf-mute, deaf and dumb
Intellectual disabilityRetarded, mental retardation
Amputee, has limb lossGimp, lame
Congenital disabilityBirth defect
Burn survivorBurn victim
Post-polio syndromeSuffers from polio
Service animal or dogSeeing eye dog
Psychiatric disability, mental illnessCrazy, psycho, schizo
How should I describe you or your disability?What happened to you?
Accessible parking or restroomHandicapped parking, disabled restroom
Person with Down syndromeMongoloid

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