Inclusive Language

Language has an important role in promoting the dignity and rights of people with disabilities. How we speak about, and with, people with disabilities creates impressions, forms views and influences relationships. The language you use in written and verbal communication can impact on inclusion. Protecting and promoting disability rights requires the adoption of measures to change attitudes and behaviours which perpetuate stigma and marginalisation for people with disabilities. This includes putting in place the policies, laws, programs and language that removes barriers and promotes the rights of people with disabilities.

Different terms are used in different countries which may be due to cultural reasons or translation. It is important to know what words and terms are preferred in the context where you are working. To understand the appropriate terms to use, ask people with disabilities or disabled peoples organisations (DPO) . There is an important distinction between identify first language (disabled people) and person-first language (people with disabilities) and it’s useful to know that different disability groups in different contexts having different preferences.

When writing or speaking about people with disabilities, it is important (where known) to use the person’s preferred identity language (e.g. Deaf person, person who uses a wheelchair, Autistic). If you’re unaware of the person’s preferred identify language, person-first language is encouraged (e.g. ‘person with disability’). Avoid terms which focus on a negative view of disability, confuse disability with illness, describe disability from a perspective of pity or charity, or that would be considered inappropriate / offensive.

Language matters, and it’s important that when we both implicitly and directly mention terms associated with disability that we communicate respectfully and are aware of which terms may contribute to further marginalisation.

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