October 26, 2022
This post was co-authored by Gregg LaBar and Vincent Dorsey. See our previous blog post about how to choose more inclusive and equitable words.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) in the U.S. The theme nationally for this year’s awareness month is “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation.”
The federal effort to recognize people with disabilities began in 1945, when Congress declared the first week in October to be “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” The word “physically” was dropped in 1962 to include individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week and christened the month of October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
One of the ways Dix & Eaton is marking this awareness month is providing a reminder that, in the communications field and in many other business and personal relationships, words matter and should be tailored to your audience. Just like any group, people with disabilities use – and prefer – a variety of descriptions.
Whenever possible, disability advocacy groups and the Associated Press Stylebook – the go-to reference guide for journalists and other professional communicators –encourage determining how people with disabilities within your audience prefer to be identified. Depending on the size and diversity of your audience, this can be accomplished through a direct ask, surveys, focus groups or examining how they themselves speak and write about people with disabilities. For example, the choice to use identity-first or person-first language should be carefully considered based on the prevailing preference of your intended audience.
Here are some communication tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Disability Health Promotion program:
- Strive to use people-first language to communicate appropriately and respectfully with and about an individual with a disability. People-first language emphasizes the person first, not the disability. For example, when referring to a person with a disability, refer to the person first, by using phrases such as, “a person who …”, “a person with …” or, “person who has …” As mentioned earlier, while person-first language is widely accepted, it is best to align your language with the preferences of your audience.
- Emphasize abilities, not limitations. Don’t use language that suggests the lack of something. For example, “person with a disability” is better than saying someone is “disabled” or “handicapped.” In addition, AP Style recommends avoiding euphemisms such as handi-capable, differently abled or physically challenged – those were popular just a few years ago, but you can see how word choice preferences and best practices continue to evolve.
- Emphasize the need for accessibility, not the disability, by using “accessible” parking or bathroom rather than “handicapped” parking or bathroom.
Learn more about “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation” on the Department of Labor’s blog.