Four years ago in October, I started this journey of Disability Navigator for Workforce Solutions. During this time, I have learned and trained many individuals on how to hire, communicate, and work with people with disabilities. This has been a job applicable to not only the work place but life as a whole. While watching the news a few weeks ago, I saw a story about a runner with no vision and the title of the story was “Blind Runner.” I know we all have labels, but do you want to be called by your label or be considered an individual first? I would not want to be called “Short Person” for the rest of my life. However, there are other phrases that can be more hurtful than calling someone short. Here are some things I’ve learned about communicating with individuals with disabilities.
People First Language. The term People First means you would address the person first and then their impairment. You would say individual with a disability, person with a hearing impairment, individual with mental illness, etc. You would not use: the disabled, deaf, handicapped, crippled, or wheelchair-bound. And there are others.
For example, I would not say the blind person in my office, but I’d say the person that is blind at my office. It is outdated and offensive to say “the blind.” The currently accepted term is “person who is blind” or “person who is visually impaired.”
Maybe some of you have used such words as crazy, insane, psycho, maniac, or nut case when talking about a neighbor, or the person on the street that seemed a bit different and eccentric. However, we might not have considered that these are people first and might have a mental illness. Other terms that can be used are people with a psychiatric disability and/or people with emotional disorders.
There is also a campaign to stop the “R- Word” (retarded.) People can go to Spread the Word and sign the pledge to not use the r-word. This word is hurtful to individuals and families with developmental disabilities. I grew up with two brothers, so I can tell you I used the r-word quiet often along with other words such as slow, moron, and idiot, which were meant to insult them and I did not think much of it. I have now signed the pledge and understand that while I was insulting my brothers, I was also allowing myself to use these words without understanding how hurtful they can be to others around me.
I’m realistic and understand that change takes time and that we all just can’t press delete and remove these words from our vocabulary, but it’s good to be conscious of the things that we say. If you’d like to read more about People First Language visit Disability is Natural for more information and many other resources.
Claudia Magallan is the Disability Navigator for Workforce Solutions Workforce Solutions- Gulf Coast ensuring that customers with disabilities utilize all the services offered by Workforce Solutions. She has over 6 years of experience building relationships in the Houston Community and working with job seekers with barriers to employment.