My name is Kelly Rogan and I am the Coordinator for Disability Support Services at USG (housed in the Center for Academic Success). It is my mission to create an accessible and accepting atmosphere for students, staff, and faculty. I would like to take this opportunity to share some information on the use of inclusive language related to individuals with disabilities.
We most likely have no intention to marginalize or cast judgment on those with disabilities but the use of certain phrases or words can do just that. I am not here to give you the “PC” talk and tell you that everything you have ever said, thought, or wrote is wrong or offensive. My intention is to provide you with some insight to help make our campus community an even more inclusive place.
Here are some tips and examples:
- Use person first language. When talking about people, we always want to refer to them as people or individuals before we identify them as something else.
- Write this: USG provides services for individuals with a disability.
- Not this: USG provides services for disabled individuals.
- Focus on ability rather than disability.
- Write this: I have a professor who utilizes a wheelchair.
- Not this: I have a wheelchair-bound professor.
- When saying wheelchair-bound it seems like the person lacks particular abilities where as someone who utilizes a wheelchair is less “bound” by the label.
- Consider how we label the places that people with disabilities use.
- Write this: Accessible parking is available in the Traville Gateway Garage.
- Not this: Disabled parking is available in the Traville Gateway Garage.
- When we use the word disabled with a service or location it sounds like that service or place is “disabled” or broken. What we intend to says is that those areas are most accessible for those needing it.
- Do not assume someone is suffering. You should avoid stereotyping by using objective language.
- Write this: The student was diagnosed with chronic depression.
- Not this: The student suffers from depression.
- When writing about a particular diagnosis, notice how it reflects the person’s abilities to cope. Being “diagnosed” and “suffering from” (while often used interchangeably) have very different tones.
I encourage you to keep these in mind as you interact with others on the USG campus, as well as in the general community. Whether you are planning an event, creating signage, or meeting one-on-one, these tips will help you to create an accepting and inclusive environment. Remember – not all disabilities are observable, so consistent use of inclusive language is important, as there are individuals who may never disclose to you that they have a disability; doing so establishes that you are a safe and accepting part of our campus community.
For questions about our Disability Support Services on campus or assistance in creating accessible materials or events please reach out to the Center for Academic Success at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hi Kelly! Thanks for all your work making USG a welcoming and affirming place for students for disabilities. I just wanted to add- person-first language is actually somewhat controversial among disability-rights advocates. Personally, I consider myself a “disabled person”, rather than a person with a disability. For some of us, disability is a part of our identity for which we are unfairly marginalized, rather than something that in and of itself holds us down. As such, we call ourselves “disabled people” rather than “people with disabilities”, in the same way that you would call someone “a black person” rather than a “person with blackness”, or “a woman” rather than a “person with femaleness”. Different disabled people/PWD have different perspectives on this, though- I certainly don’t speak for everybody.