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.

 

 

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 say Don’t say
Disability Differently abled, challenged
People with disabilities The disabled, handicapped
Person with spinal cord injury Cripple
Person with Down syndrome Mongoloid
Person of short stature Midget, dwarf
Uses a wheelchair, wheelchair user Confined to a wheelchair, wheelchair-bound
Has a learning disability Slow learner
Has chemical or environmental sensitivities Chemophobic
Has a brain injury Brain damaged
Blind, low vision Visually handicapped, blind as a bat
Deaf, hard of hearing Deaf-mute, deaf and dumb
Intellectual disability Retarded, mental retardation
Amputee, has limb loss Gimp, lame
Congenital disability Birth defect
Burn survivor Burn victim
Post-polio syndrome Suffers from polio
Service animal or dog Seeing eye dog
Psychiatric disability, mental illness Crazy, psycho, schizo
How should I describe you or your disability? What happened to you?
Accessible parking or restroom Handicapped parking, disabled restroom
Person with Down syndrome Mongoloid