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Health & Safety

Guidelines for Writing about People with Disabilities

Disabled ManWe are living in a society that is more sensitive to the needs and feelings of others than in generations past. While people who had physical and mental challenges were often referred to by derogatory names in generations past, the etiquette nowadays calls for more sensitivity. This is a positive development, but at the same time, many can be in the dark when it comes to talking about people with disabilities. Terms keep proliferating, and those who deal with the public should stay aware of correct terminology.

The following are examples of correct terminology. The traditional term is on the left and the correct term is on the right.

The Disabled – A Person with a disability

Normal Person – A Person without a disability

Autistic – A Person with autism

Deaf – A person who is deaf

Dumb – A person who can't speak

Epileptic – A person who has epilepsy

Quadriplegic – A person with quadriplegia

Dwarf – A person of short stature

Birth defect – Congenital disability

Mentally ill – A person with a mental illness.

Many sites have lists of terms designed to educate and instruct people on how to describe those with disabilities. Grammar girl has a guide for writers on the proper terms to use. There are also government style manuals designed to instruct those conducting interviews on how to use more sensitive language. Other guidelines are available and include instructions on how to become more attuned to the needs of those with disabilities. This might vary from country to country, given cultural issues and language.

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