Terminology 

Commission LogoThroughout this booklet I will repeat this saying due to the impact and belief this saying has had on the writers life: People with disabilities are just people who happen to have disabilities.  The attitude we hold within reflects who we are and what we believe. Attitudes are the number one barrier people with disabilities confront on a daily basis. Therefore, the language or terminology we use in communicating is vital. One’s attitude reveals how accessible or inaccessible a person or business may be in accepting a person with disabilities. Accessibility creates opportunity for equal access for all individuals to participate in life, as he or she desires. People with disabilities, according to the laws, are to have equal access. However, to achieve equality which enhances opportunity; the use of language is vital. Language reflects how we see each other and the words we choose can and often do hurt. It is our responsibility as advocates to use the proper language in communicating to others. Our choice of language or words we choose, reflect who we are and how we distinguish the world. Grouping words such as: “Handicapped,” “Disabled,” “Lame,” “Crippled,” “Deaf and Dumb,” “Unfortunate,” “Afflicted,” “Victim,” should be avoided at all cost. These are offensive words, grouping a class of viable citizens together creating a negative attitude, which reflects a poor, pitiful handicapped person, which people with disabilities are not. Let’s remember using such words as mentioned above are as offensive to a person with a disability just as racial slurs are to and ethnic group.

Here are the definitions:

  • Handicapped means a race or contest given different contestants to equalizer their chances of winning.
  • Disabled a term now used for computers when they do not work. People with disabilities do work and contribute to the betterment of society in a variety of manners.
  • Lame connotes weakness and ineffectual, the condition of unsatisfactory.
    Crippled a damage or defect.
  • Deaf and Dumb do NOT go together, just because an individual is unable to hear sounds, they can certainly hear and read body language. Intellect has nothing to do with the ability to hear or speak. People are never dumb, although we do make dumb mistakes, choices or decisions.
  • Unfortunate is characterized by undeserved bad luck, disastrous, regrettable, or deplorable. Circumstances and situations are unfortunate, not human life.
  • Afflicted is defined grievous physical or mental suffering on one. All people are afflicted or suffer something during life; it does not mean a person with a disability remains in that state of being which life moves forward each new day.
  • Victim is one who is harmed by or made suffer from an act. Things happen in life yet life continues forth. It is how you perceive your life that makes a person a victim.

It is so important to stress the necessity to always use the people language first when communicating or reflecting on your circumstances or that of other people. The language of communication colors everything in our world and how we communicate with each other or about one another, (not to encourage gossip), yet our words paint pictures. Disability is in the eye of the beholder. What word pictures do you paint with the language you choose? If you see yourself as a handicapped, disabled, lame, crippled, unfortunate, afflicted, or a victim, then your expectations of yourself or others are decreased as a human being. People with disabilities are not tragic figures, nor are they demigods; they are just people who happen to have a disability. And if you have a disability, then guess what? You are a person with a lot to contribute to society and a life to celebrate. People with disabilities are not superhuman models of courage. They are not a disease or an embarrassment. Every person regardless of his or her situation has the gift of life. When equality and opportunity exits every person has something to offer society.

“Most people change their expectations to fit reality. An advocate changes reality to fit their expectations.”
-Arkansas Lt. Governor Win Rockefeller-

Advocacy is of utmost importance, whether a person with a disability or a “typical” person (someone without a disability) rejects or welcomes change. However we MUST break down the barriers, all barriers. Advocacy is hard work and the results are enormous when approached properly. Remember: Change happens continuously. President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “There is nothing to fear, but fear itself.” Change can cause fear, thus affecting the future of humankind. Therefore, advocacy requires communication and YOU can and will make a major difference in how people relate to you and each other, with or without a disability. Let’s confront the language barrier proving individual ability. NOT the dis…but reflect the ABILITY in your communication skills. Use People First language! We need each other to fight the good fight.