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Promoting Accurate & Respectful Language in the Workplace

Joy Stanek, TCC

The use of appropriate language is paramount when talking about individuals with disabilities. As an ever-evolving

society, it is crucial to realize that the power of language can dramatically impact the lives of people with differing abilities, either positively or negatively. The National Center on Disability and Journalism (NCDJ) has developed a Disability Language Style Guide that provides specific guidance on the use of accurate and respectful language in reporting and writing about people with disabilities.


The language style guide serves as a valuable tool for businesses and individuals alike, as it can help them communicate with individuals with disabilities with greater empathy and sensitivity. While the guide does not provide a definitive lexicon of disability terminology, it does provide clear guidelines for its usage.


One vital element of the guide is the emphasis placed on people-first language, which involves putting the individual before their disability. This means noting that a person has a disability rather than referring to them as a disabled person. For instance, rather than saying “a handicapped person,” one should say “a person with a disability.” This helps to highlight the person’s humanity and avoid labeling them solely based on their disability.


Another element that the style guide emphasizes is avoiding negative that reinforces stereotypes and negative connotations about people with disabilities. Terms such as "suffering from" or "victim" should be avoided, as they create a negative viewpoint of individuals with disabilities being dependent and unable to lead productive and happy lives.

The guide also encourages the use of terminology that reflects the individual’s condition accurately without creating stigma. For instance, a person who is deaf should be described as “Deaf” with a capital ‘D' rather than “deaf and dumb” or “hearing-impaired.” The term “hearing-impaired” has negative connotations as it suggests that a person is incomplete and lacks an essential sense.


In the workplace, it is crucial to ensure that terminology is respectful, inclusive, and free of negative connotations. Management can foster a positive culture by training employees and incorporating these guidelines into office communication and written materials. This fosters a more inclusive and compassionate workplace culture.


The disability language style guide developed by the National Center on Disability and Journalism serves as a valuable tool in promoting accurate and respectful language usage. The guide emphasizes people-first language, avoiding negative terminology, and using accurate terminology that reflects the individual's condition without creating stigma. It is a crucial resource for businesses and individuals alike to communicate with sensitivity and empathy. By following the guidelines, workplaces can create a more inclusive and accepting environment that values everyone.


If you or your organization is interested in the full guide, you can find it here along with other resources and information: https://ncdj.org/style-guide/


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