Language guide

Your choice of language has an impact on the way people with disability feel and are perceived in society. It is important that you are aware of the meaning behind the words you use when talking to, referring to or working with people with disability.  Disrespectful language can make people feel hurt, excluded and can be a barrier to full participation in society.

Language shapes the way we view the world. The words we use influences community attitudes – both positively and negatively – and impacts on the lives of others.

How we write and speak about people with disability can have a profound effect on the way they are viewed by the community and themselves. Some words, by their very nature, degrade and diminish people with disability. Other words perpetuate inaccurate stereotypes. PWDA ensures that a social model of disability is presented in all written work and all verbal communication.

This includes referring to ‘people with disability’ rather than ‘people with disabilities’ as well as ‘women with disability’, ‘children with disability’, etc.

Your choice of language affects people’s lives

People with disability spend a lot of time being described in ways which are disempowering, discriminatory, degrading and offensive. Negative words such as “victim” or “sufferer” reinforce stereotypes that people with disability are unhappy about their lives, wish they were ‘normal’ or should be viewed as an object of pity.

The reality contradicts these outdated stereotypes. People with disability are people first, who have families, work and participate in community activities. Just as people should not be referred to in racially or sexually derogatory terms, people with disability should no longer be referred to in ways that categorise their lives in a simplistic, one-dimensional manner. People with disability want respect and acceptance and a responsible, ethical journalist should accept this need and learn to use respectful language.

A contemporary view of disability acknowledges a person has an impairment or medical condition, but that it is disabling barriers within society – negative attitudes, inaccessible buildings and environments, inaccessible communications and information – which prevent people with disability from being treated equally and from fully participating in all aspects of community life.