Some people in the media just don't know how to refer to someone with a disability. They might not be aware how to describe someone who is blind or vision impaired, or how to refer to someone who uses a wheelchair. Some people in the media worry about how to mention a person's disability.
People with disabilities can get annoyed with how they are described in the media. Most dislike being labelled
disabled, which makes it sound like they are broken down and won't be going anywhere until fixed. Hopefully calling someone disabled will disappear like the offensive terms handicapped or special. Ill-considered words can hurt, so the media needs to be sensitive when describing people with a disability.
Reporting it Right
To help the media, the Department of Human Services has released a set of guidelines called
Reporting it Right. The guidelines are about how the media should portray people with a disability.
Real successful people
The report says that
people with a disability should be portrayed as real people, rather than as heroic, inspirational, victims or sufferers. After all,
they have jobs, families, talents, opinions and faults, just like everyone else.
The guidelines ask that the achievements of people with a disability not be sensationalised. There are millions of people with disabilities so it should not surprise that many are successful.
Similarly, terms like
overcoming the odds imply that people with a disability are not usually successful.
Describing a disability
The guidelines suggest avoiding overly emotive language to describe a person's disability. Calling a person's circumstances tragic can devalue their life. People can view their lives and disabilities differently. To avoid incorrect assumptions, the media should ask how a person wants their disability described. They may find a person does not want their disability mentioned at all.
The media needs to be careful with the emphasis they place on a person's disability. For example, if writing an article about author M J Hyland, the media should ask whether it is necessary to mention she has multiple sclerosis (MS). Her MS is irrelevant if the article is a review of one of her novels, unless one of the novel's characters has a similar disability. But if the article is about M J Hyland's life as an author her MS could be relevant.
Disabled or person with a disability?
The report lists many acceptable terms and phrases for people with disabilities.
Person with a disability has been used throughout this article instead of
disabled person. Some other examples are:
- Person with a physical disability instead of physically challenged
- Person who is blind instead of the blind or blind people
- Person with a mental illness instead of insane or mentally disabled
- Person who uses a wheelchair instead of confined to a wheelchair or wheelchair-bound
- Person without a disability instead of normal or non-disabled.
Notice how the terms all put a
person before the disability. This is because the majority of people with a disability do not want to be defined by their disability. We are a person first.
The media guidelines are available from the Department of Human Services