I was skimming through the news today and something caught my eye. There was an article about a young man who is a wheelchair user that has revolutionized the field of action sports by performing extremes stunts, flips, etc. in his wheelchair. This man is a great role model and inspiration for young wheelchair users everywhere. In the article he is described “wheelchair stricken” multiple times.
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 garage
Do: Student With Down Syndrome Named to Rochester Homecoming Court
Don’t: Wheelchair-bound Seymour man challenges selectmen to ‘wheel’ in my shoes
Do: No Go Britain: wheelchair user wins landmark victory
Don’t: Deaf writer Sophie Woolley’s cochlear implant regained her hearing
Do: Woman, deaf since 2, hears for first time
While 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.