|Blogging Against Disablism|
Often when I receive press releases from agencies that serve people with developmental disabilities, I am surprised that these agencies refer to their clients as “the disabled” or “the developmentally disabled.”
Surprised because I thought the respectful, widespread practice was to use people-first language in an effort to combat harmful stereotypes.
When I encounter press releases that refer to the “the developmentally disabled,” I edit them to instead describe their clients as “people with developmental disabilities.”
I take as my guideline, the Associated Press Stylebook. Where it is silent on subjects that pertain to people with disabilities, I consult a style guide that has been prepared by the National Center on Disability and Journalism:
“When describing an individual, do not reference his or her disability unless it is clearly pertinent to a story. If it is pertinent, it is best to use language that refers to the person first and the disability second.”What is at stake with depictions in the media? Here’s a quote from the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities:
“Historically, people with disabilities have been regarded as individuals to be pitied, feared or ignored. They have been portrayed as helpless victims, repulsive adversaries, heroic individuals overcoming tragedy, and charity cases who must depend on others for their well being and care. Media coverage frequently focused on heartwarming features and inspirational stories that reinforced stereotypes, patronized and underestimated individuals' capabilities.
“Much has changed lately. New laws, disability activism and expanded coverage of disability issues have altered public awareness and knowledge, eliminating the worst stereotypes and misrepresentations. Still, old attitudes, experiences and stereotypes die hard.
“People with disabilities continue to seek accurate portrayals that present a respectful, positive view of individuals as active participants of society, in regular social, work and home environments. Additionally, people with disabilities are focusing attention on tough issues that affect quality of life, such as accessible transportation, housing, affordable health care, employment opportunities and discrimination.”For readers who are unfamiliar with my blog, I would like to explain that people-first language isn’t just a professional exercise for me. I think about its implications when describing myself.
As a woman who is on autism spectrum, I might use the words “autistic” and “Aspergian” to describe me and my tendencies. On other occasions, I may describe myself as “a woman with autism” or “a woman on the autism spectrum.”
Because I reside on the autism continuum, I think personally about portrayals in the media and implications of using a label like “developmentally disabled.”
As an editor I consult the style guide and make my edits accordingly to promote accurate, respectful portrayals of people with disabilities.
Additional resources for people-first language:
This blog is part of “Blogging Against Disablism,” a web project for May 1.