from avoiding to examining to embracing…a note on inclusive language

November 25, 2019


I love talking openly and honestly with others about disability.  Whether it’s through a keynote speech, webinar, workshop, or coffee shop discussion, I enjoy taking deep dives into disability territory…territory that often feels off-limits to folks. 


Before I dive into the bulk of the material in any inclusion discussion, I talk about current inclusive language and disability etiquette.  This sets ground-rules and establishes vocabulary that will serve the entire group for the remainder of our time together and beyond.  


Lately, the topic of language is fueling the most push-back in Q and A sessions.  Hands shoot up and people ask, “But WHY can’t I say this?” “This language is new to me, and it feels wrong.”  “But, my parents used these terms (insert old school term here) about my brother for years…what’s the big deal?” 


The big deal is that over the past few decades, we have used language as a way to conceal people’s identity.  We use terms like “differently abled, crippled, special, handi-capable, or physically/mentally challenged to avoid or dance around disability.  And while I love to dance, it is time we stand still and examine our ideas and biases around disability so that we can all show up as better allies and advocates. 


In NO PITY, Joseph P. Shapiro writes, “One of the most common attacks on the disability movement is to mock the politically correct terms often used to describe disability.”  Instead of mocking, how about we simply say the word?  Know that you can say disability. By saying disability or disabled, you are contributing to the constructive reframe of disability language and perceptions.  Disability is not a bad word.  The old stigma of disability is being rejected and replaced with a sense of disability pride. 


The next time you are discussing disability, avoid the dance and cut to the chase.  Say the word.  Know that often, person-first language is preferred (i.e. a person with a disability rather than a disabled person); however, each person with disability has language they prefer if you simply ask. 


Avoid the dance.

Say the word. 

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