Use words and images that portray disabled people in ways that promote full equality, inclusion and participation.
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In New Zealand, we use the term ‘disabled person’ as outlined in the New Zealand Disability Strategy rather than ‘person with a disability’.
However, when referring to an individual, always ask what term they use to refer to themselves — different disabled people have different backgrounds, communities and ideas that can influence what term they prefer.
Models of disability
When writing about disability, it’s helpful to understand the models that are used to define disability. Today, we use the social model, which has replaced the now out-of-date medical model.
The Social Model of Disability
The social model says that a person is disabled by society rather than by their body or abilities. This model looks at what is wrong with and needs fixing in society.
The Medical Model of Disability
The medical model says people are disabled by their impairments or differences. This model looks at what is wrong with and needs fixing in the person.
- Use respectful terms for disability and mental health.
- Focus on positive outcomes and personal strengths.
- Use language that portrays disabled people as active individuals with control over their own lives.
- Avoid using language that contributes to society’s negative stereotypes about disability.
- Do not reference a medical, neurological or neurodevelopmental condition unless it’s relevant.
- Only use the word ‘impairment’ when you’re relating it to a medical condition — for example, ‘a person with a hearing impairment’ — and never apply the term directly to people, such as saying ‘people with impairments’.
- The descriptive terms for the broad medical categories of ‘impairments’ in disability are:
- hearing or auditory
- learning, cognitive or neurological.
- Not everyone who has a learning impairment has a cognitive impairment, in that they may have difficulties with certain mental tasks but have a normal IQ — an example of a learning difficulty is dyslexia, an example of a cognitive disorder is dementia, and an example of a neurological impairment is a headache.
- Avoid using ‘disorder’ unless it’s part of a formal diagnosis — for example, Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
- Avoid language that portrays disabled people as victims, such as ‘suffers from’ and ‘challenged by’.
- Do not say a person is inspirational only because of their disability.
- Avoid phrases that may associate disability with negative things — for example, ‘blind drunk’ or ‘deaf to our pleas’.
- Do not use cartoons or portray disabled adults as if they were children.
- Use images of disabled people doing a range of things, like shopping, taking a holiday, attending a lecture, playing sport and getting married, rather than stereotypical images that portray them as pitiable.
|Afflicted by, struggles with, suffers from, victim of||
Has or with [name of condition or type of impairment].
For example, person who has a cognitive impairment, or person with cerebral palsy
|Albino||Person with or who has albinism|
|Attack, spell, fit||Seizure|
|Birth defects, deformity||
Born with [name of disability or condition, or type of impairment]
For example, person born with dyslexia, or person born with learning impairments
|The blind||Blind people|
Person with a physical disability, or person with a mobility impairment
Person who walks with crutches, or person who uses a walker
|Deaf-mute, deaf and dumb||
Person who is Deaf (New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) users identify with this term, which is capitalised), or person who is deaf (non-NZSL users)
|People with disabilities||Disabled people|
|Disclosing a disability||Telling people about a disability|
|Epileptic||Person who has epilepsy|
|Help (this suggests a weakness)||
For example, ‘the support worker can support you with your cooking’.
|Hidden impairment||Invisible impairment|
|Lame||Person with a mobility impairment|
|Mentally retarded, retard, slow||Person with a learning disability, or people with cognitive difficulties, or person with a neurological condition|
People with dwarfism, or little people, or people of short stature
Person without a disability, or non-disabled people
Sighted person, or hearing person, or neurotypical person (for people who are not blind, or deaf, or who do not have cognitive difficulties)
|Schizophrenic||Person who has schizophrenia|
|Spastic||Person who has muscle spasms|
Particular requirements, diverse needs
For example, person with particular requirements, or people with diverse needs
|Symptoms [of a condition]||The effects [of a condition]|
|Visual impairment, people who are visually impaired (this can be interpreted as indicating someone who looks visually disfigured or diminished in some way)||Vision impairment, or people with vision impairments|
|Wheelchair bound, confined to a wheelchair||Someone who uses a wheelchair, or wheelchair user|