1 in 5 Australians have a disability, and it’s time we adapt our language and behaviour towards inclusivity. Here’s how you can make a start with the words you choose to use.
Words are powerful
We often take for granted how our actions affect those around us. They may seem innocent, but the labels we give each other convey our thoughts and beliefs. Sometimes we have a habit of using outdated terms like ‘handicapped’ even when we don’t believe in them.
But the words we choose represent ourselves and others. Disrespectful language can hurt a person with disability and make it harder for them to communicate.
People with disability are more than stereotypes. They come from diverse backgrounds, are family members, friends, and community members like everyone else.
If you want to remove barriers towards disability inclusion in society, then there’s a simple way to start. By having the right information and using inclusive language we can change real attitudes and beliefs.
How to use language for inclusivity
The following tips are based off guidelines from the Disability Advocacy Resource Unit (DARU) and People with Disability Australia (PWDA). They are recommendations on how to make small adjustments in your everyday language.
Put the person first
Use phrases that start with the person in mind. For example: ‘person with disability/disabilities’ or ‘people with mental health conditions’.
Avoid using words to frame the person as disadvantaged or suffering from their disability. Instead of ‘person suffers from’, say ‘person living with’.
Switch it up
Avoid framing disability as a restriction and switch words like ‘disabled’ for ‘accessible’.
Don’t lump us all together
It can be easy to presume that people with disability are the same if the disability can’t be seen. Recognise diversity with your words. For example, use ‘blind’ if the person has no vision, otherwise say ‘person with visual impairment’.
Above all, keep your language positive and sensitive to those you’re speaking with or about. Here’s some more examples.
When we use this language we start to tackle old beliefs and stereotypes about disability. Next week we cover more ways to drive inclusivity!