How to change the conversation about people with disabilities
People with disabilities are often framed as objects of charity or examples of personal struggle; society has held negative attitudes and assumptions about disability for a long time. By working together, we change the conversation, moving perceptions away from pity and towards empowerment. Here are some ways to have more respectful conversations about people with disabilities.
What is wrong with the current discussion?
There is a stigma associated with disabilities. Many people will refer to someone with disabilities using negative language, describing them with vocabulary that suggests their lives are less than ideal, inferior or undesirable. Perceiving and describing someone based on their abilities, or disabilities, is offensive and harmful. Avoid using the word ‘disabled’, which has very negative connotations. If it is relevant to mention someone’s challenges, do so using respectful language.
What can we do instead?
In conversation, pay attention to language. Notice when an able-bodied person is described as normal or healthy—these are not adjectives most people with disabilities would use to describe people without disabilities. Talking to people about the way they use language to describe people with disabilities is also incredibly important—to change the narrative, we need to help people relearn.
What can I do to help others adjust their perceptions?
When you hear someone make a biased or hurtful comment, step in and offer up a different perspective that honors and respects people with disabilities. If it’s hard for you to say something on behalf of others, talk about your own experience; using your own story may give you more authority and credibility than if you simply jumped in. The goal should be for people to stop seeing ableism as normal. We can all do our part by bringing disability awareness into everyday conversations and offering support and education to each other.