Your guide to inclusive disability language

A male wheelchair user chats to a fellow factory worker

*This guide has been written and adapted from the People With Disability Australia (PWDA) Language Guide: A guide to language about disability. This fantastic document has been put together by people with disability to educate and guide the general public in their use of inclusive language.

The aim of our re-creation of this guide is to help people without disability to feel confident and comfortable in the way in which they are referring to or speaking about people with disability. We hope that we can help to ensure that the general public are speaking about and to people with disability in a way that is respectful and appropriate.

Using appropriate and respectful language can help to shape the way in which people with disability feel about the way they are included in society and about how society views people with disability. Language must never negatively impact someone’s sense of self, or affect the way people with disability feel about themselves. 

Keep it simple! When you’re in doubt about how you should refer to or about someone – just use their name!

Here are our top tips on how to use language that is inclusive and respectful.

Be conscious about how you celebrate people with disability

Something that is common in society is the celebration of people with disability achieving something. This is often seen to be demeaning and can portray the idea that people with disability aren’t usually capable of achieving the things that the general public can. When celebrating people with disability, it must be done in a way that isn’t condescending or has the purpose of inspiring people to be grateful that they themselves do not have a disability. 

People with disability are not ‘victims’

People with disability are often described as victims or sufferers – these are still very common terms in our society; “he’s a stroke victim”, “she suffers from cerebral palsy” etc. Terms such as this suggest that people with disability are unhappy with their lives, or that they should be pitied or felt sorry for. This is not the case and stereotypes such as this can be harmful. 

Who is centre stage?

If you’re reporting on, or conveying a story about someone who has a disability, be careful not to make the story about other people. For example, it has been common practice in the past to tell the stories of parents, siblings or friends of people with disability. Sometimes, in doing so, this can make a person with disability feel that these people around them are being upheld for loving them and caring for them despite their disability. Caring for, or loving someone with a disability should never be celebrated as a commendable act.

People with disability have the same human rights as everyone else. It’s not newsworthy when those rights are upheld. – PWDA

If in doubt, ask questions!

Don’t be afraid to ask someone how they like to be spoken about or addressed. For example, in Australia, both ‘person-first’ and ‘identity-first’ terminology is used interchangeably. This means that we use “people with disability” (person first) and “disabled person” (identity first). Some people have a strong preference for one of these terms, so make sure you ask!

Check out the full Guide

For more detail, and some great examples of what you should and should not say, we highly recommend the full Guide produced by People With Disability Australia. Access the Guide here.

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