Why Words Matter

Man with a disability laughing with a woman at a cafe

Let’s Talk: Disability Language

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). We take this opportunity to highlight the many contributions of America’s workers with disabilities and promote a culture of inclusiveness.

One out of five people in America has a disability, making them our nation’s largest “minority.” The group represents all ages, genders, ethnicities, and socioeconomic levels. The likelihood of joining this group is high. Disability can be acquired at birth, in the blink of an eye due to an accident or injury, or acquired from illness or age.

Despite its frequency, many people are still uncomfortable talking about disability. This uncomfortableness contributes to the obstacles that people with disabilities face in obtaining employment or fully integrating with their workforce. The truth is that there are as many preferences about ways to identify a person with a disability as there are individuals. So what is a well-intentioned person to do? When in doubt: ask. We’ll get to that in a minute, but first, let’s talk about two distinct (and oft-debated) approaches to disability language.

Person-First Language (PFL)
People-first language is generally at the heart of our organization’s disability awareness training. The emphasis is on the person – not the disability or condition. Those who support people-first language (PFL) believe that using a diagnosis or condition as a defining characteristic robs the person of the opportunity to define him or herself. PFL was developed to address the stigma often associated with disability. Advocates wanted to reaffirm that disability does not, in fact, lessen one’s personhood. As such, the PFL movement encourages the use of phrases like “person with a disability,” or “person with autism” instead of “disabled person” or “autistic person.”

The disability community is not only large; it is often divided. Increasingly, a second preference is being voiced: Identity-First Language (IFL).

Identity-First Language (IFL)
For those who prefer identity-first language, “disabled person” is a perfectly acceptable way to identify a person. Their belief is that PFL purposefully separates a person from their disability, presuming that disability is something a person should dissociate from to be considered a whole person.

From their perspective, it also implies that “disability” or “disabled” are negative, derogatory words when, for many, disability is just a part of their being or uniqueness. Within the Autistic community, IFL is preferred by many when Autism is considered as a part of a person’s identity. Using IFL language, you would say that someone is “Autistic,” not a “person with autism.” However, even people with IFL preferences draw an important distinction when it comes to the use of a term strictly for its medical definition. You would never refer to a person based on a diagnosis such as “Down syndrome person” or “cerebral palsy person.”

Confused? You are not alone. So what’s a person to do?

JUST ASK.
The debate between PFL and IFL is proof that words do matter. Language, however, is never “one-size-fits-all.” When in doubt, do not assume. Ask the person how they choose to identify.
Words and language are powerful tools. Language, and the meanings we attach to words, have the power to influence, develop, and change attitudes and beliefs. Each person’s use of language and identity are deeply personal. Just ask and respect their choice.

Quick note: Always avoid terms that dis-empower people or have negative meanings like “handicapped,” “wheelchair-bound,” “crippled,” etc. And please, never use the “R” word. The word “retarded” is a highly offensive term for people with intellectual disabilities.

For more information about People-First and Identity-First Language, here are a few more:

Why Person-First Language Doesn’t Always Put the Person First

Describing People with Disabilities

Identity-First Language

Communicating With and About People with Disabilities

Perceptions Debunked! Myths about hiring people with disabilities

Mike

People with disabilities face unemployment at nearly four times the rate of the general population, not because they do not want to work or are unqualified. Unfortunately, many employers do not realize the benefits that people with disabilities can bring to the workplace.

Individuals with disabilities represent the single largest and most diverse minority group.  Often, concerns over the cost of equipment, training or insurance clout opportunities for people with disabilities. Other times, employers worry that employees with disabilities simply will not fit an organization’s culture, or are perceived as less productive.

Today’s post will tackle a few of these perceptions and show the facts, in an effort to help employers recognize and address these myths and negative stereotypes. Such myths and stereotypes often exclude individuals with disabilities from the workplace despite their willingness and ability to work.

 

Perception:  the potential unknown costs of accommodations.

Fact: Employers already make accommodations daily, such as scheduling flexibility, allowances in dress code rules, or providing a comfortable chair. According to the 2014 U.S. Department of Labor, Job Accommodations Network (JAN) report on workplace accommodation. The report concluded, “workplace accommodations not only are low cost, but also positively impact the workplace in many ways.” Click here to view.

 

Perception: concerns over job performance.

Fact: According to a study done by DePaul University, “Exploring the Bottom Line: A Study of the Costs and Benefits of Workers with Disabilities.” The study, “noted low absenteeism rates and long tenures. They also described their employees with disabilities as loyal, reliable, and hardworking.” Click here to view.

 

Perception:  an increase in insurance premiums.

Fact: Insurance rates are based on the relative hazard of the job and the accident history of the workplace, and not on whether workers have disabilities.

 

Perception: co-workers will be uncomfortable and worried about saying the wrong thing.

Fact: simple etiquette and mutual respect can avoid relationship barriers. Click here to view 10 Tips.

 

Perception:  productivity will be negatively impacted.

Fact: working alongside an individual who has overcome major challenges in their life and managed their disability on the job raises morale, creating a positive working environment for everyone.

 

Perception: employees with disabilities are more difficult to supervise than employees without a disability.

Fact: Employees with disabilities should be held accountable to the same job standards as any other employee. Managers should be confident that their supervisory skills will work equally with all employees – with and without disabilities.

 

How can you make a difference for individuals with disabilities?

  • For Employers, schools and community-based organizations, the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) has created 31 tips to help promote employment for people with disabilities during the month of October, which is also National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). Click here to view.
  • Recognize and support businesses that employ individuals with disabilities.
  • Contact PRIDE Industries at info@prideindustries.com to learn how your business can employ individuals with disabilities.

Together we can change lives…one job at a time.

 

10 Tips on Communicating with People with Disabilities

NDEAM2

It is no secret that some people are not comfortable around individuals with disabilities despite the fact that one in five people in the U.S. has a disability. A person with a disability is more like you than they are different. Individuals with disabilities are just typical everyday people who live with various challenges.

At PRIDE Industries, where two out of three employees are people with disabilities, even new employees can feel unsure at first. Here are ten tips on how to be more comfortable while interacting with people with disabilities.

1. Use people-first language

Here’s an easy one; always emphasize the person first in your conversations. Say “person with a disability” rather than “a disabled person.” Avoid terms that disempower people or have negative meanings like “handicapped,” “wheelchair-bound,” “crippled,” etc. Also, avoid the “R” word; there is no need for such use. For specific disabilities saying, “person with Tourette syndrome” or “person who has cerebral palsy” is, usually, safe to say. If you are not sure what words to use, just ask.

2. Communicate with the person

Always speak directly to the person with a disability rather than through a companion or colleague. Additional tip, do not speak louder or slower, be your usual self.

3. Be considerate and patient, don’t patronize

Be patient if a person requires more time to communicate, to walk, or to accomplish various tasks. Do not be patronizing. There is no need to pretend to understand if you did not; instead, repeat what you understood and let the individual respond.

4. Ask before you help

It may be hard to resist, do not automatically help without asking first. Do not assume that people need help simply because they have a disability. If you offer assistance, wait until the offer is accepted. Then listen and ask for instructions.

5. Be sensitive about physical contact

Wheelchairs, walkers, canes, and mobility equipment should be treated as an extension of that person’s personal space. If you are assisting someone, always ask where the best place is to touch him/her or their equipment. Also, do not lean on a wheelchair or any other mobility equipment. Lastly, respect individual’s personal space.

6. Clearly introduce or identify yourself

Give the person with visual disability verbal information about the things that are visually obvious, and let them know you are near, enabling the individual to “see” their surroundings. For a person with a hearing disability, tap the individual on the shoulder or wave your hand to get their attention. Then, look directly at the person and speak clearly and slowly to establish if the person can read lips.

7. Avoid the “you are so inspirational” comments

While some individuals get inspired by people with disabilities, remember they are simply living life – like everyone else. Such comments have a negative effect, reminding individuals with disabilities how differently they are perceived.

8. Relax

Be yourself. Do not be embarrassed if you use common expressions such as “see you later” or “did you hear about this” that seem to relate to the person’s disability. Remember, it is okay to ask questions when you are unsure of what to do.

9. Keep calm

Breathe and keep calm. Individuals with disabilities are just like the rest of us, no need to worry. However, be conscious of how your reactions affect others. Be nice.

10. The golden rule

Lastly, remember the “golden rule” – treat everyone the way you wish to be treated. It is that simple.

Interacting with people with disabilities is only as hard as you make it. Remember these few tips and you should be okay. Hey, you may even have something in common; you’ll never know unless you make an effort.

Disability Etiquette 101

Don’t know how to act around people with disabilities? Relax; a person with a disability is more like you than they are different! Individuals with disabilities are just normal, everyday people who live with various challenges.

At PRIDE Industries, where two out of three employees are people with disabilities, even new employees can feel unsure at first. Here are a few tips to help you be more comfortable and communicate more effectively. Don’t let fear and uncertainty keep you from getting to know people with disabilities. Most importantly, remember that a person with a disability is an individual first.

Use common sense
When in doubt, resort to the Golden Rule; treat others as you would want to be treated. If you don’t know what to say, or how to act, use common sense and think about how you would want to be treated and you will probably be just fine!

Use people-first language
This one is easy; always emphasize the person first in your conversations. Say “person with a disability” rather than “a disabled person.” Avoid terms that disempower people or have negative meanings like “handicapped,” “wheelchair-bound,” “crippled,” etc. For specific disabilities, saying “person with Tourette syndrome” or “person who has cerebral palsy” is usually a safe bet. Still, individuals do have their own preferences. If you are not sure what words to use, just ask.

Respect the person’s privacy
As you would with anyone, refrain from asking private questions which would otherwise be inappropriate.

Communicate with the person
Always speak directly to the person with a disability rather than through a companion or colleague.

Be considerate and patient, but not patronizing
Be patient if a person requires more time to communicate, to walk, or to accomplish various tasks. Don’t be patronizing. There’s no need to pretend to understand if you did not; instead, repeat what you have understood and allow the person to respond.

Ask before you help
Don’t assume that people need help simply because they have a disability. If the setting is accessible, people with disabilities can usually get around fine. People with disabilities want to be as independent as they can. If you offer assistance, wait until the offer is accepted. Then listen and ask for instructions.

Be sensitive about physical contact
Wheelchairs, walkers, canes and other mobility equipment should be treated as an extension of that person’s personal space. If you are assisting someone, always ask where the best place is to touch them or their equipment, as people with disabilities usually have some degree of decreased balance and coordination.

Clearly introduce or identify yourself
Give a person with a visual disability verbal information about the things that are visually obvious to those who can see. For a person with a hearing disability, tap the individual on the shoulder or wave your hand to get their attention. Look directly at the person and speak clearly, slowly and expressively to establish if the person can read lips.

Relax
Be yourself. Don’t be embarrassed if you use common expressions such as “see you later” or “did you hear about this” that seem to relate to the person’s disability. And remember, it is OK to ask questions when you are unsure of what to do.