How do we, people with disabilities, want to be portrayed?

  • 11/08/2017
Maree Ireland
Young man and support worker shopping for groceries

What language do we want people to use when they talk about us in, for example, the media, or in the delivery of training to disability support workers?

Are there words or phrases used to describe people with disabilities that irritate you?  For example, in my previous post, I wrote about how the phrase ‘confined to a wheelchair’ irritated me because I don’t see my wheelchair as confining me – I see my wheelchair as a vehicle that assists me to live my life independently.

I remember when I was in a Scope workshop in the 1970s when beauty pageants and telethons were used to raise funds for our services. A group of people with disabilities (outside these disability services) would protest outside these events because they believed it degraded people with disabilities. As a user of these services, I could not see it was degrading because we were only concerned about how we required continual funding for our services.

What a great thing hindsight and personal experience can be. After experiencing university and mainstream life in general, I can now see the importance of how people with disabilities are seen and spoken about in the community. The words we use influence community attitudes – both positively and negatively – and impact on the lives of others. Images and even how we are treated in public must portray us as equal members of society. It is imperative that when we are about in the community with our support workers, we are treated with respect and not just taken to a shopping centre to ‘sit around’.

People with disability OR disabled people?

On a personal level, I prefer to be referred to as a person with a disability because I want people to see me as a ‘person’ first. However, when people with disabilities are being talked about as a group I can see the relevance of being referred to as ‘disabled’ people as it implies that the ‘disability’ is caused by society’s lack of understanding and general indifference to being truly inclusive.

For me, another example of an annoying phrase is ‘people with complex communication needs’. Yes, I realise this phrase has probably been developed for diagnostic and planning treatment purposes, but I feel that if the general community hears a person has ‘complex communication needs’, I think it puts the person behind the eight ball – people are hesitant enough to talk to people with communication devices, let alone if they get the idea it will be a complex process to go through.

Are there any words you want the media or trainers to start using to better portray people with disabilities? 

Let us know…

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