To commemorate Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, our Jewish Disabilities Advocates coordinator provided the following tips on how to portray someone with a disability:Never use the word “handicapped.” Like many terms that refer to minorities, the word itself is not the problem, but the negativity that has been attached to it. At the least, it denotes a problem or a burden. At worst it denotes incapability. Also, a parking space, an entrance, or a restroom may be “accessible,” but should not be called “handicapped.”
Place the person before the disability out of respect for their individual uniqueness and worth. Use “person with a disability” or “my friend who uses a wheelchair” rather than “disabled person” or “disabled individual.”Because a person is not a condition, avoid referring to an individual by the condition he or she has, such as “post-polio,” a “cerebral palsy” or an “epileptic.” Say, instead, a person who…“has/had polio,” “has cerebral palsy,” or “has spina bifida,” etc.
When writing about people with disabilities, choose words that carry positive, non-judgmental connotations. Avoid words such as the following:
- Victim: Instead use “person who has/person who experienced/person with…”
- Cripple/Crippled/the Crippled: Instead use “person with a disability/individual with a disability caused by or as a result of…”
- Afflicted By/Afflicted With: Instead use “has (such and such) disability.”
- Invalid: This word literally means “not valid.” Instead use “person who has a disability…”
- Wheelchair Bound: Instead say, “the person uses a wheelchair.”
- Unfortunate, Pitiful, Poor, Deaf and Dumb, Crip, Deformed, Blind as a Bat, and any other words or clichés that are judgmental or stereotyping: There are no replacements for these!
Source: Disability Rights & Resource: A consumer-controlled, community-based, cross-disability, non-residential, private, non-profit Center for Independent Living.
-Lynn Rubenstein, Jewish Disabilities Advocates coordinator