Media Kit Info

Perspectives to Disability
It has been a notion for many years that disability has far reaching consequences for the personality of an individual, a belief that has led to the development of false notions and prejudices in the community. Our notions about disability and disabled people are generally negative.

We were not born with these notions. Our ideas about disability come from what we see and hear, and the fact remains that we have rarely seen disabled people in everyday roles like others.

Our perceptions also reflect society’s non-acceptance of an individual with disability as a person.

This calls for an urgent analysis of existing attitudes and feelings towards disability, in order to determine an informed and realistic approach to the matter. This is precisely what we seek to present here.

Perspectives on Disability:
The Disability movement has come through different models. They are:

Traditional or Religious Model
Medical & Charity Model
Social Model
Human Rights Model.

Traditional Model:

In this model, the attitude of the society towards disabled people was atrocious. Disabled people were under the spell of witchcraft — they were treated as sinners. Disability was viewed as a ‘punishment from God’ for the sins committed by disabled people themselves or their relatives during their supposed ‘previous births’ or ‘Janmas’. Sometimes it was assumed that people who displeased their forefathers would have to pay for it, via their disability. This kind of thinking still exists in many villages today.

This was a painful period for disabled people, both physically and mentally. They had to go through the nuisance of applying some unknown oil, which could well have been some edible oil without any medicinal effect. The oil would be applied so vigorously that it would sometimes cause physical damage. Religious rituals and ceremonies to get rid of the ‘witch’ or the harmful spirit inside the disabled person used to happen very frequently. These kinds of rituals were traumatic and terrifying for adults as well as children.

Disabled people were completely isolated from society and from their own families as well. They would be excluded on social occasions, family gatherings, etc as their presence was not considered worthy enough. Labelled ‘unlucky’, disabled people were forced to stay indoors.

Such ideas were emotionally damaging to them. It would result in feelings of hopelessness because it was supposedly ‘their fate’ and nothing could be done about it. They were led to believe that even feeling frustrated would only make things tougher for them and consequently they would suffer in silence and in isolation.

Medical & Charity Model:

Historically, our idea of disability experienced a lot of changes after World War II. Soldiers returned from the war, injured and disabled — including the soldiers from developed countries such as America and Japan. Although their governments started paying more attention to their welfare, again, they were completely isolated from the rest of the world that they were familiar with.

In the Medical or Charity model, the focus was the disability alone, and how to get it cured — not on the abilities of the person. Medical interventions and rehabilitation were stressed upon, throughout the life of the disabled person. It was at this point that many “special” schools, “special” vans etc, came up. During this period disabled people were treated as passive beneficiaries of charity. It was also believed that they could not be educated, and required medical attention and therapy. The idea of a disabled person working and contributing towards society was almost unthinkable.

Society’s main attitude towards the disabled was one of pity. Even the families of disabled people would assume they were entirely dependent on them. Expectations of disabled people were low or non-existent.

The focus was on the ‘can’ts’ — ‘can’t’ walk, ‘can’t’ see, ‘can’t’ hear instead of on the ‘cans’ and not on the ‘cans’ like ‘can’ study, ‘can’ work and ‘can’ participate.

The disabled were expected to be grateful, and could not complain about being portrayed as tragic victims, even if it made them feel devalued, frustrated and helpless. Disability was regarded as something that required fixing, without which the person with the disability could not feel satisfied with himself/herself.

Social Model: At some point disabled people became exasperated with the medical interventions of the medical model and wanted to contribute towards the society themselves. They no longer wanted to be passive beneficiaries of charity. Thus emerged the social model. This was a period when people started to focus on the person, and not on his or her disability. Disabled people themselves started wanting to be seen as contributing members of the society. They wanted to run businesses, socialise, play sports, and benefit from entertainment, and so on.
Society, at this point used to regard disabled people either as super heroes or as super-crippled. There existed the concept of hyper compensation and other related myths, and disabled people were never viewed as normal human beings. That visually impaired people, in particular, are especially gifted with musical abilities; that they have a sixth sense; that when one faculty is denied, there is an automatic compensatory effect; that if eyesight is lost, inner eyes or ‘spiritual eyes’ open up; that blind and other persons with disabilities have powerful memories – these and many such beliefs prevailed.

Research and experience have proved conclusively that it is not ‘extra compensation’ or ‘the sixth sense’ which help the blind, but consistent and rigorous training and application of the remaining senses.

What people failed to realise was the actual potential of disabled people — as separate individuals.
Fortunately, though, as a result of adopting the Social Model, the disabled person may feel like a partner in mutual endeavour. He or she may feel more valued, and less isolated, frustrated and passive.
This model advocated the idea: “Teach me skills. Don’t treat my ills”. Human Rights Model: It is in this model that disabled people started to fight for their rights In the social model they accepted the challenge provided by the environment and adjusted to it. But in the human rights model, it is recognized as a basic right that the environment must be adapted according to their needs and that they should not have to challenge the physical or attitudinal barriers of the society — which was a common feature in the social model. They have the right to be included in schools, job establishments etc, the right to access to public buildings, public transports and information. Attitude of the Rehabilitation Professionals:
Often, even rehabilitation professionals tend to have certain stereotyped ideas about people with disabilities. Some attitudes and stereotypes held by them are as follows:
1. Perfectionism
For example, the physiotherapist may want the person with disability to be as normal and as independent as possible, which is not possible in reality. This attitude does not make the disabled person feel comfortable being themselves because the professional thinks that he or she is the best to judge. They care little about how the person with disability feels.
2. Dependence
Frequently, they assume that a disabled person cannot find his or her own way of doing things.
3. Disability
The disability of the individual is generally given more importance than the person.
Issues of People with Disability
Issues of People with Disability
In the fast-developing world, aesthetics and technology have come hand in hand, creating barriers in the environment around. Attitudes insensitive to disability promote these barriers.
The barriers in society can be mainly classified into two: the environmental & attitudinal barriers. The major environmental barriers are of two types: Architectural and communication. Lack of information is another major barrier faced by disabled people.
Architectural barriers in buildings include lack of ramps, railings, signage, braille print, adequate spacing, slip-resistant flooring, accessible toilets and chairs, switches, shelves, wash basins, taps and telephones at an accessible height. This kind of infrastructure helps disabled people to be at ease and do their routines with minimum or no support. Apart from becoming self-reliant, such an internal atmosphere boosts their self-confidence and avoids unnecessary delay.
In public places also, there is a need for ramps and hand rails, kerb ramps in pavements; seats, taps, telephone booths, wash basins at an accessible height, braille print, road signals with adequate timing, audio-visual announcements and usage of bright colours, space for wheel chair users, accessible parking space, sign language, slip-resistant grab bars & flooring, modified play area/ equipments and rules. After all, it is the right of disabled people to be included in all walks of life and is not possible without an accessible/barrier free environment. The Persons with Disabilities Act 1995 provides for a barrier-free environment in all public places and a barrier-free transport system.
It is interesting to note that making a building disabled-friendly costs just two per cent of the total building costs. A lot of cost-effective adaptations can be made within and outside buildings to make them exclusively barrier-free. Mr. Rama Krishnan, President of Amar Seva Sangam, an NGO working for disabled people, is using a lift working on pulleys at his residence. This lift is very simple, easy to manipulate as well as cost-effective. Such innovative and simple techniques can be adapted to suit the needs of disabled people as well as to implement the appropriate provisions of the Persons with Disabilities Act 1995.
Most accessibility structures/designs have specific standards/measurements that have been accepted universally. Some of the features are as follows:
Ramps should have a gradient of ratio 1:12, parking space for disabled people to be within 30 metres of main entrance, handrails to be circular and 40-45mm in diameter, doors to have 900 mm Clear Opening, toilets should have 1950 x 2000 mm (minimum) clear floor space and wash basins should be provided with a knee space of 960 mm width; 200 mm depth and 650 – 680 mm height.
Communication is another area where not enough attention paid to. People having communication barriers are the ones who face many hardships in socialization. At present, communication is bound within language and speech. In reality, much more communication can happen in silence. There is an inappropriate school of thought stating that people with communication disabilities cannot communicate or don’t know how to communicate. The fact is reverse. Everyone communicates in day-to-day life. But, the society that claims to be communicative or communicable does not bother to receive or understand what the disabled person is communicating.
Bhavana, an 11th standard student studying in Lady Andal Matriculation School, has profound disability and can communicate only by pointing with her eyes. She was able to complete her 10th Standard Board Exams with 91 percentage marks in 2006, through a well-designed eye pointing chart and a trained scribe. Therefore, it is the society’s responsibility to remove the barriers in communication, so that any person can communicate in the way he/she wants and is comfortable with; it is just the right to expression that any person would enjoy.
Major communication barriers in the society include lack of Readers, Braille Material / Manuals / Magazines / Government Orders/ Gazette / Newspapers and scribe facility for people with visual Impairment, lack of Sign Language & Sign Language Interpreters for People with Hearing Impairment, lack of communication aids and technical devices for people with severe disabilities and a lack of importance to research on alternative & augmentative communication, which hinders a huge amount of human resource in contributing towards the development of the country. Apart from these, there is an immense need for disabled friendly curriculum and examination system, which involve a variety of options and adaptations.
The areas that get affected due to these barriers include education and information leading to intellectual disability, employment leading to financial disability, play, leisure and health leading to health issues, all of these affecting the Rights and Contribution of disabled people leading to isolation from society, affecting their self esteem, (sense of) social respect and dignity of life leading to an emotional disability; an all-round life of disability.
The real issue behind these barriers is the disability-insensitive attitude of society. Even a stringent law can do very less unless there is a change in the mindset of people and a willingness to accept and respect (disabled) people. There is an attitude of relating a disabled person with his or her disability and not to his/her abilities. The society should be dynamic enough to accept all differences, as the world exists only because of its differences and the natural balance among them. It also becomes the duty of each member of society to respect individuality and mutual rights of any (disabled) member of the society. The society should develop a natural tendency to provide equal opportunities to disabled people, whereby they can enjoy their rights and also contribute to the society. All citizens should have the attitude to value the contribution of disabled people as they do their own. For such an attitudinal shift to happen, the society should believe in disabled people and that they are like anybody else.
An example in this case is Rajiv Rajan, Coordinator, Disability Legislation Unit South, Vidya Sagar, who was included in a mainstream school during his Higher Secondary course. His school and his peers accepted him so well that he was included for playing cricket, his favorite sport, despite being a wheel chair user. The school or the student peers didn’t find any difficulty in changing the rules of the game to some extent and maintained the thrill of playing as well, which enabled Rajiv to be one of the best bowlers of his team.
By creating special schools and special teachers in the country, a big mistake has been committed. If there were no special schools, no special teachers, probably the society would have learnt over the years to cater to different disabilities. By segregating them, somewhere, the mainstream schools have never felt it to be their responsibility to include all children.
It is a well known fact that enrolment in mainstream school alone is not the answer. It is important for the education system to respond to the needs of disabled people. Even the integrated education system is catering only to mildly disabled people. Whoever receives special education never gets standardized curriculum; and a very few reach up to college education or even 11th or 12th class.
The results of a survey conducted in 320 odd universities and schools shows that only 0.1 per cent of disabled students are in universities and 0.5 per cent n mainstream schools. Clearly, a huge amount of neglect prevails in the society.
Least priority has been given to the education of disabled children, due to the following reasons:
The attitude of the parents, family members and the community is that, there is no use of a disabled child being educated and it is a waste of time, money and other resources, as they think that a disabled child/adult is not productive in any way. The capitalist mentality of the society also prevents the disabled child from enjoying the Right to Education as conferred by the Constitution of India.
When there are other siblings for a disabled child, the disabled child gets the least priority in education compared to his/her siblings, either due to poverty of parents or the attitudinal barriers in society. Poverty and disability is a vicious circle. Due to poverty, education is denied for children. Even if parents from the economically weaker sections of the society want to educate their children, the chances of a disabled child going to school is very rare, as the cost involved in educating a disabled child is more when compared to a non-disabled child, due to the architectural barriers in society.
The prevalence of architectural and environmental barriers such as inaccessible built environment, school buildings, roads, transport and so on. Many times parents will have to carry their disabled child due to the architectural and environmental barriers. They cannot use public transport, and private transport is too expensive for them. Thus, as the child grows older, their environment is restricted to their home.
The education system is also inaccessible for many disabled students, as the teaching methods, learning aids, the curriculum itself and the evaluation system is not disabled friendly. (Braille books and materials, readers for students with visual impairment, sign language interpretation and teaching are not available in most schools). Even when alternative teaching methods are used, the same methods are not used for evaluation. For example if a child is taught using the Picture Communication System they are not evaluated using this system. This allows little opportunity for Disabled People to continue with their education. Augmentative and Alternative Communication Techniques are confined only to few special schools.
Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA) talks of Education for all. The fact remains that many disabled people are not enrolled under this scheme due to the severity of disability. Also teachers are not trained in inclusive education.
The Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995 does not speak of reservations in Higher Educational Institutions and only talks about open universities. Many disabled people are denied entry into professional courses like MBA, Engineering and Medicine due to their disability.
Women with Disabilities:
Women with disabilities suffer a double discrimination, both on the grounds of gender and of impairment. The social status of disabled women varies according to individual circumstances and to the community in which they live. There is ample evidence that women with disabilities experience major psycho-social problems and they have been restricted to home-based activities, while men are likely to be supported in more public and outgoing avenues. Being a woman, they do not have access to better education or find a suitable job. The society thinks that she cannot be a “good wife”, or a “good mother”. This is because of the capitalist attitude of society.
Feticide and infanticide are more in case of women with disabilities.
Though women are organized largely, in reality not even 1 per cent of the disabled women get opportunity to take part, take action and make change in the larger social framework. They are often denied opportunity to interact with others and gain skills to prove their skills due to the discriminatory attitudes. Isolation and confinement based on culture and traditions, attitudes and prejudices often affect disabled women more than men. This isolation of disabled women leads to low self-esteem and negative feelings. Therefore, the needs of girls with disabilities may be more special than needs of any other groups and have to be addressed in all spheres of education.
Regarding education, boys with disabilities attend school more frequently than girls with disabilities.
The women with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be victims of physical and sexual abuse than non-disabled women. Their access to reproductive healthcare is minimal and as a result they suffer greater vulnerability to reproductive health problems and sexually transmitted diseases. There is a lack of awareness regarding women with disabilities and reproductive health needs. More often than not, it is assumed that they do not form part of the target groups because being disabled is associated with being sexless or asexual.
Many parents of young girls with disabilities are often advised to remove the uterus of their wards for safety reasons.
In our society, an individual’s worth is often judged by his or her contribution to society and employment has evolved to become a major factor in evaluating their worth.
Even though disabled people constitute a significant 5 to 6 per cent of the population of India, their needs for employment remain unsatisfied, in spite of the implementation of the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995, which reserves 3 per cent of all categories of jobs in the Government sector for disabled persons.
Of the approximately 90 million people with disabilities in India, only about 0.1 million have succeeded in finding employment in the industries till now. This was found in a study conducted by the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), an organization working as an interface between the Government, industry, non-governmental organizations and international agencies, to promote employment opportunities for people with disabilities in India.
Based on the research conducted by NCPEDP on the status of employment of disabled people, it was also found that the job market was not prepared in terms of attitude, finance and infrastructure to include disabled person in the workforce of the country. It also seems that even if disabled people are employed, they are either at very low post or that even at a higher post they are being discriminated against and are getting lower wagers compared to their non- disabled counterparts. Thus disabled people are forced to accept the situation because “Some job and some money are better than no and no money”.
The following are some of the factors that hinder placements for disabled people:
1. Poor accessibility to and at work place
2. Mismatch of available jobs and registered candidates
3. lack of data on job profiles required and on persons seeking employment
4. lack of reservation policy in the private sector
5. lack of belief in the capacity of the Disabled People
6. absence in adoption of technology to enhance potential of Disabled People
7. dearth of disabled people with relevant education and training
8. attitude of parents
9. lack of initiative on the part of disabled people themselves
Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995, not only reserves three per cent of all categories of identified jobs in the public sector industries for disabled persons but also provides for incentives for public and private sector companies that have at least 5 per cent of their workforce comprising disabled persons.
Neglect Abuse & Discrimination
Neglect Abuse & Discrimination
Neglect means wilful lack of care and attention. It is also referred to as (a) failure to do or carry out, as through carelessness or oversight and (b) failure to act with the prudence that a reasonable person would exercise under the same circumstances. It is also the trait of neglecting responsibilities and lacking concern.
Disabled people experiences neglect in many instances. Disabled children are neglected in education, play grounds, sports, leisure, love, support, health and decision making processes like selecting their own food or dress. Likewise disabled adults also suffer from neglect in the areas of employment, active participation in society, family life, health including reproductive health care and marriage, property rights, decision making process etc. Disabled people are often neglected of their material, financial, emotional requirements.
The following case study explains how a disabled person is neglected by his family:
Balan, a person with Cerebral Palsy, was studying in a special school in Chennai. He belonged to an upper middle class family. His siblings were doing professional courses.
His family used to leave him in a temple at their convenient time in the morning to take his school bus. After school hours, the school bus used to leave him back in the temple. He would wait for hours for his father to come and pick him up. The rest of the family members never bothered to support him. Many times people mistook him for a beggar on the streets. The only reason for the rest of his family members not supporting him was his disability. They didn’t want anybody in the society to know that Balan had disability.
This is a clear case of neglect of a disabled person by the family members. He was not treated with dignity, which is against the constitutional rights of Right to Life with Dignity.
Abuse is a complex psycho-social problem that affects large number of adults as well as children throughout the world. Although abuse was first defined with regard to children when it first received sustained attention in the 1950s, clinical psychologists and researchers now recognize that adults can suffer abuse in a number of different circumstances.
Abuse refers to harmful or injurious treatment of another human being that may include physical, sexual, verbal, psychological/emotional, intellectual, or spiritual maltreatment. Abuse may coexist with neglect, which is defined as failure to meet a dependent person’s basic physical and medical needs, emotional deprivation, and/or desertion. Neglect is sometimes described as passive abuse.
Physical abuse is the non-consensual infliction of pain and bodily harm to another and includes binding (eg. Tying, chaining, manacling, taping), burning (eg. Via cigarette, open flame, hot objects, forced exposure to sun, etc), hitting, striking, slapping, pushing, throwing things, expression of frustration, impatience, dislike, anger or fear, and imprisonment.
Verbal abuse include accusing, blaming, teasing / joking, manipulating, ridiculing, judgmental criticism, name calling and humiliating.
Sexual abuse refers to inappropriate sexual contact between a child or an adult and someone who has some kind of family or professional authority over them. Sexual abuse may include verbal remarks, fondling or kissing, or attempted or completed intercourse.
Emotional/psychological abuse covers a variety of behaviors that hurt or injure others. In fact, emotional abuse is a stronger predictor than physical abuse of the likelihood of suicide attempts in later life. Examples of emotional abuse are: destruction of someone’s pet or valued possession, emotional blackmail – such as threatening to commit suicide unless the other person does what is wanted, shaming or humiliating someone in front of others.
Abuse has after effects on physical, neurobiological, cognitive, emotional, social and educational aspects.
Derogatory language is often used by media to refer to disabled people. For Example recently in one of the Tamil movies “Pollathavan,” terminologies like “Nondi” (crippled) is very often used to refer to a disabled person. Derogatory concepts like “disabled people are unfit to marry” etc, are conveyed by this movie.
Discrimination is defined as unfair treatment of a person or group on the basis of prejudice. It is the failure to treat people in the same way because of bias due to some characteristics such as race, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, disability – which is irrelevant.
It leads to the denial of opportunities and equal rights to individuals and groups because of prejudice and other arbitrary reasons.
The following examples / case studies explain how discrimination is common in the lives of Disabled People.
Example of Ms. Shankari:
Ms. Shankari is a person with cerebral palsy. She is a post-graduate in Business Administration.
Mr. Bharathan, Shankari’s father, wanted to take a Group Insurance Policy for Ms. Shankari in her name. They applied for the same through State Bank of India. But the application was rejected by the Life Insurance Corporation, stating that Shankari cannot become a member of the Group Insurance Scheme due to her condition, Cerebral Palsy.
The list of diseases due to which a person cannot apply for the policy given in the application form does not include Cerebral Palsy and also Cerebral Palsy is a condition and not a disease like heart attack, cancer etc, which is mentioned in the application form.
Another incident in the life of Ms. Shankari is as follows:
When she was studying for post-graduation, she could not have used the services of a scribe while giving her exams as her speech is very unclear. She opted to write on her own but her handwriting is not very legible. Therefore every time she gives exams with the Madras University, she had to intervene and request for special evaluation. Few times she was given special correction.
She gave her final paper Business Techniques last April, which she failed. When she took the issue to the vice chancellor of Madras University with some suggestions for policy level changes, she did not get any reply from him.
This is a clear cut violation of the Constitutional Rights of Equal Opportunities and Social Security, the Persons with Disabilities Act 1995, which states equal opportunities and Full Participation and Reasonable accommodation as mentioned in the UNCRPD.
Ms. S. S. Smitha:
Ms. Smitha, Assistant Coordinator, Disability Legislation Unit, South – Vidya Sagar is a person with Multiple Sclerosis.
She is the Co-founder of Tejas, a self-advocacy group of disabled women. She represented disabled women in the 9th National Women’s Movement Conference held in Kolkata from the 9th to the 12th of September 2006.
Ms. Smitha took the Air Deccan flight from Kolkata to Chennai. She was travelling with her colleague who is also a disabled person. Due to the polished flooring and the distance in the airport, both of them opted for wheelchairs, which was chargeable.
Once they boarded the aircraft, the cabin crew wanted to seat them separately. Ms. Smitha questioned this and one of the crewmembers claimed it to be in line with the Civil Aviation rules. Smitha asked for the rules and the crew member replied that it was with the captain. When Smitha called the captain out asking for the rules, the captain not only refused to show the rules but also asked for a medical check up on Smitha and asked her to get down from the aircraft.
When we examined the rules later, nothing of that sort was mentioned in the rules.
Smitha made a representation to the CEO of Air Deccan. His reply was very vague and did not give any remedy to our client. Subsequently we filed a complaint in the District Consumer Court.
Ms. Ummul Khair:
Ummul Khair is a young girl with Cerebral Palsy. She is studying final year B.A. Sociology in one of the leading colleges in Chennai. Her friends and peers planned to go for a picnic. When Ummul wanted to be a part of the picnic, her friends and even her teachers were not for it. They felt that it would be very difficult to help Ummul handle the architectural barriers.
Appropriate Terminology
Appropriate Terminology
1. Able-bodied: Refers to a person who does not have disability. “Non-disabled” or “does not have a disability” is preferred. “Able-bodied” comes from a “physical ability” perspective, excluding the majority of people with disabilities. It also implies people with disabilities do not have “able” bodies. The term “non-disabled” or the phrase “does not have a disability” is the most neutral.
2. ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder): ADHD is a syndrome of learning and behavioural problems that is not caused by any serious underlying physical or mental disorder and is characterized especially by difficulty in sustaining attention, impulsive behaviour, and usually by excessive activity. Do not say hyperactive. Say person with ADHD.
3. Afflicted with: These terms come with the assumption that a person with a disability is in fact suffering or living a reduced quality of life. Instead, use neutral language when describing a person who has a disability. Not every person with a disability “suffers” is a “victim” or “stricken”. Instead simply state the facts about the nature of the person’s disability. For example, “He has muscular dystrophy” or use term “acquired disability” to describe the affliction causing disability.
4. ASL: American Sign Language, a language used by deaf community of America to communicate.
5. Assistance animal: (also see “guide dog”, “seeing eye dog”, “service animal)”: Currently there is no uniform terminology. Animals, mostly dogs, can provide services to a person with disability, including the blind, but not limited to fetching objects for those who use wheelchairs, providing visual clues for those who are blind or alerting deaf individuals to household audio clues.
6. Audiologist: This term should be used for a para medical professional who diagnoses hearing ability of a person with hearing disability. In India, they are not considered doctors. Hence do not address or term them as doctors as they are not medical professional.
9. Autism: A mental disorder originating in infancy that is characterized by absorption in self-centered subjective mental activity, especially when accompanied by marked withdrawal from reality, inability to interact socially, repetitive behaviour, and language dysfunction. Do not say autistic. Say person with autism.
8. Barrier-free environment: A phrase to depict the accessibility for the persons with disabilities without additional assistance, a place using a ramp, lift, railings, induction loop system, power counters and any other arrangement made to a place/a vehicle or office to make it user friendly to the persons with disabilities.
9. Birth defect: Avoid the term “defect” or “defective” when describing a disability because it indicates that the person is somehow incomplete or sub-par. Instead use terms that simply state the facts of the nature of the disability (when appropriate) such as : “congenital disability”, “born with a disability”, or “disability since birth”.
10. Blind: Use as an adjective, not as a noun. Describes a person with complete loss of sight. Many people who are legally blind have some vision, which they sometimes use in combination with canes, dogs and other low vision aids. For them, the label “blind” is inaccurate. For others, use terms such as “visually impaired”, person with “low vision” or “partially sighted”. Currently there is no uniform terminology. It is best to ask the person which term to use. The word “blind” is used in colloquial English to imply “ignorance” or “stupidity”, i.e., “turned a blind-eye”, or “blind to the fact”, “What? Are you blind?” “Blind” is a short and punchy word, which makes it good for headlines and teases, but it is inaccurate for non-disability issues and misleads when applied to people with low vision. Using “blind” instead of “ignorant” (or other adjectives) is inaccurate and perpetuates stereotypes that people, who are blind, are ignorant. This stereotype can lead to negative assumptions when a person applies for a job or seeks to have equal access to society. It is best not to use colloquial English and instead choose more accurate words.
11. Brain injury: Brain injury describes a condition where there is long-term or temporary disruption in brain function resulting from injury to the brain. Difficulties with cognitive, physical, emotional, and/or social functioning may occur. Do not say brain damaged. Say person with a brain injury, woman who has sustained brain injury, or boy with an acquired brain injury.
12. Chronic fatigue syndrome: Chronic fatigue syndrome also called chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome, describes a serious chronic condition in which individuals experience six or more months of fatigue accompanied by physical and cognitive symptoms. Do not use terms such as Yuppie Flu, malingering, and hypochondriasis as they are pejorative, imply personality disorders, and are not scientifically supportable. Say person with chronic fatigue syndrome.
13. Cleft lip: Cleft lip describes a specific congenital disability involving the lip and gum. The term hare lip is anatomically incorrect and stigmatizing. Say person who has a cleft lip or a cleft palate. Congenital disability describes a disability that has existed since birth but is not necessarily hereditary. The terms birth defect and deformity are inappropriate. Say person with a congenital disability.
14. Cochlear implant: Latest technology used for inserting hair-thin electrode to the cochlea of the ear through an operation. Used mostly for those persons with congenital hearing disability to enable them to use their inner ear capabilities.
15. Cerebral Palsy (CP): Do not refer to a person with CP as “cerebral palsy victim”, “cerebral palsied”, “spastic” or as “a CP” because these terms define the individual only in terms of their physicality. As when describing people with any kind of disability, the term “CP” can be used to describe the disability but not a person. Do not mention the disability unless it is essential to the story. Phrases such as “she/he has cerebral palsy” are best.

16. Confined to a wheelchair: Do not use “confined to a wheelchair” or “wheelchair-bound”. Instead, use “person who uses a wheelchair” or “wheelchair-user”. Unless mentioning the wheelchair is essential to the story, leave it out. Avoid using phrases like “wheelchair-rider”, “vertically challenged” and similar terms.

19. Congenital disability: A person who has a “congenital disability” has a disability since birth. Avoid the term “defect”, “birth defect” or “defective” when describing a disability. Use “has a congenital disability”, “a disability since birth” or “born with a disability”. Only mention the disability when it is pertinent to the story.

18. Cripple, crippled, crippled with: Do not use these terms to describe a person with disability. Much like the way some racial derogatory terms are used, some people with disabilities have taken “cripple” shortened it to “crip” which is used as an “insider”term to refer to other people with disabilities. Some people who use “crip” identify with being a part of “disability culture”. However, other people with disabilities find “cripple” in any form, offensive. The basic guideline, then, is to avoid using it altogether.

19. Deaf: Capitalize when a person identifies as culturally deaf. Use as an adjective, not as a noun. Describe a person with profound or complete hearing loss. Many people who are “hard of hearing” or “hearing impaired” have a mild to moderate hearing loss that may or may not be corrected with amplification. “Hearing impaired”, “hard of hearing”, “hearing loss”, “partial hearing loss”, and “partially deaf” are some terms used by some individuals to indicate varying degrees of hearing loss from mild to profound. Currently there is no uniform terminology. It is best to ask the person which term to use. Use: “woman/man who is deaf”, “boy who is hard of hearing”, “individuals with hearing losses”, “people who are deaf or hard of hearing”. Avoid “deaf and dumb” and “the deaf-mute”.

20. Deaf-dumb, deaf-mute: Avoid these terms. These terms refer to a person who does not hear and does not use speech to communicate. “Dumb” originally referred to a person who could not speak, and implied the person was incapable of expressing him or herself. People who are deaf or do not use speech are capable of expressing themselves, but in a different language like Indian Sign Language (ISL), and American Sign Language (ASL). A person who does not have voice may be able to hear.

21. Defect, defective: Avoid using this term to describe a disability. An offensive example is “she suffers from a defective leg”. Instead use “she has a disability” or “she is a person with orthopaedic disability”.

22. Deformed: Best is to name the disability.

23. Developmental disabilities: This phrase was generated from the Developmental Disabilities Act. It is an umbrella term that is often generalised to mean more than the federal and/or state legal definitions. The legal definitions can vary from state to state. The term generally is used to refer to individuals whose disability affect development acquired at birth or childhood. One of the definitions is “Developmental disabilities are chronic mental and/or physical disabilities which manifest before the age of 18 and result in functional limitations in at least three of the following areas of life activity: self-care, language, learning, mobility, self-direction, independent living and economic self-sufficiency. Individuals with developmental disabilities require lifelong or extended individual supports. Conditions include, but are not limited to autism, mental retardation, epilepsy and cerebral palsy.”

24. Disability, disabled: General term used for functional limitations that limits one or more of the major life activities such as walking, lifting, learning, breathing, etc. Different Acts/Laws define disability differently in different countries. Persons with Disabilities, Act, 1995 defines disability clearly. When describing an individual do not include their disability unless it is clearly pertinent to the story. If it is, it is best to use ‘people first’ language, for example: “The writer, who has a disability…” as opposed to “The disabled writer “.

25. Disfigurement: Disfigurement refers to physical changes caused by burns, trauma, disease, or congenital conditions. Do not say burn victim. Say burn survivor, or adult with burns, or child with burns.

26. Down Syndrome: Not “Down’s” for the genetic, chromosomal disorder first reported in 1866 by Dr. J. Langdon Down. Preferred language is “Person with Down Syndrome” not “Down Syndrome child”. Do not use “mongoloid”. A syndrome is not a disease or illness. It is not contagious.

29. Dumb: This term originally referred to a person who could not speak, and implied the person was incapable of expressing himself or herself. For example, he or she may use the writing or a different language like Indian Sign Language. A person who does not have voice may be able to hear. Hence all the deaf persons are not dumb. “Dumb” is also a derogatory term to refer to someone with perceived low intellectual ability.

28. Dwarf: Avoid the term unless a quote or in a medical diagnosis. This is a medical term applied to people who are of “short stature”. Avoid medical model terms when describing the experience of living with a disability. Instead use: “short stature” or “little person/people”. Best is to ask the person which term to use.

29. Ear mould: An acrylitic material device to enable the amplified sound to reach the ear without any leakage of sound. It helps the user of hearing aid to fit the receiver into the ear properly.

30. Fit: This term refers to a seizure or a person having a seizure. It is more accurate to use the term “seizure”. “Fit” or “throwing a fit” in colloquial English often implies a person is acting “spoiled” or “out of control” because they are not getting what they want.

31. Guide dogs: Currently there is no uniform terminology. Animals, mostly dogs, can provide services to a person with a disability, including but not limited to, fetching objects for those who use wheelchairs, providing visual clues for those who are blind or alerting deaf individuals to household audio clues.

32. Handicap/handicapped: Handicap/handicapped should be avoided in describing a disablity. It can be used when citing laws and situations in courts.

33. Hard of hearing, hearing impaired: Many people who are “hard of hearing” or “hearing impaired” have a mild to moderate hearing loss that may or may not be corrected with amplification. “Hearing impaired”, “hard of hearing”, “hearing loss”, “partial hearing loss” and “partially deaf” are some terms used by some individuals to indicate varying degrees of hearing loss from mild to profound. Currently there is no uniform terminology. It is best to ask the person which term to use.

34. Hearing aid: An electronic device used as an amplification device by persons with hearing disability.

35. Hearing aid user: A person who uses hearing aid. There are various types of hearing aids such as behind the ear, body level, in the ear and in the canal.

36. HIV/AIDS: Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome is an infectious disease resulting in the loss of the body’s immune system to ward off infections. The disease is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). A positive test for HIV can occur without symptoms of the illnesses that usually develop up to 10 years later including tuberculosis, recurring pneumonia, cancer, recurrent vaginal yeast infections, intestinal ailments, chronic weakness and fever, and profound weight loss. Don’t say AIDS victim. Say people living with HIV, people with AIDS or living with AIDS.

39. Impairment: The term `impairment’ refers to individually based, functional limitation whether physical, intellectual, sensory or hidden.

38. Infantile paralysis: This disability is more commonly known as “polio”. It is the more accurate term. “He has polio since childhood” or “she contracted polio as an adult from a vaccine”. Rather than “He suffers from polio”.

39. Injuries: Injuries are “sustained” or “received” not “suffered”.

40. Invalid: This term should not be used to describe a person with disability. The word implies that a person has no abilities and no sense of self, whereas for the vast majority of persons with disabilities, this is rarely the case.

41. Indian Sign Language (ISL): It is the mother tongue of the Indian Deaf community. A language used by the deaf community in India for communication. Presently, Ali Yavar Jung National Institute for the Hearing Handicapped, Mumbai has initiated steps to envisage development and research in ISL.

42. Indian Signed System (ISS): It is different from Indian Sign Language (ISL). In Indian Signed System, word to word signs are used for interpretation. But the deaf community in India finds it difficult to understand the interpretation using ISS.

43. Lame: Avoid using when referring to a person. Some people with and without disabilities are also offended when the term “lame” is used in colloquial English like “lame excuse”.

44. Learning disability: Learning disability describes a permanent condition that affects the way individuals take in, retain, and express information. Some groups prefer specific learning disability, because it emphasizes that only certain learning processes are affected. Do not say slow learner, retarded, etc., which are different from learning disabilities. Say person with a learning disability.

45. Loon, loony, loony bin: Taken from the term “lunatic”, a derivative of that word referring to an individual seeking therapy, assisted living situations, or mental health fitness is considered a derogatory term.

46. Low vision: Describes a person with some vision which they sometimes use in combination with canes, dogs and other low vision aids. Using the term “blind” for someone with “low vision” or who is “partially sighted” is inaccurate. Currently, there is no uniform terminology. It is best to ask the person which term to use.

49. Mental disability: The Federal Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) lists four categories under mental disability, psychiatric disability, retardation, learning disability, or cognitive impairment as acceptable terms. Always precede these terms with, “person with…”.

48. Mental retardation: Mental retardation refers to substantial intellectual delay that requires environmental or personal supports to live independently. Mental retardation is manifested by below-average intellectual functioning in two or more life areas (work, education, daily living, etc.) and is present before the age of 18. Don’t use subnormal or the retarded. Say people with mental retardation.

49. Midget: Midget is a derogatory term for people of “short stature” or “little people/person”.

50. Mute: Mute is a derogatory term referring to a person who cannot speak. Avoid using this term. It also implies that people who do not use speech are unable to express themselves, which is not true.

51. Multiple chemical sensitivities: Multiple chemical sensitivities describes a chronic condition characterized by neurological impairment, muscle pain and weakness, respiratory problems and gastrointestinal complaints triggered by contact with low level exposure to common substances including pesticides, new carpet, particleboard, cleaning agents, and perfumes. Some people react to foods and electromagnetic fields. Do not use psychosomatic or 20th Century disease. Say person with chemical intolerance or environmental illness.

52. Non-disabled (also see “able-bodied”): Non-disabled refers to a person who does not have a disability. Can also use “does not have a disability”.

53. Nuts: Derogatory term referring to someone with a psychiatric disability.

54. Paraplegic: Sometimes people with paraplegia (or who are paraplegic) will refer to themselves as a “para”. If so, use in quotes. Otherwise, spell out.

55. Partially sighted (also see “blind”): Describes a person with some vision which they sometimes use in combination with canes, dogs and other low vision aids. Using the term “blind” for someone with “low vision” or who is “partially sighted” is inaccurate. Currently, there is no uniformity.

56. Physically-challenged: Used to depict persons with disability who cannot access the facilities offered to physically-able persons. It is commonly accepted phrase to address the disabled persons.

59. Post-polio syndrome: Post-polio syndrome is a condition that affects persons who have had poliomyelitis (polio) long after recovery from the disease and that is characterized by muscle weakness, joint and muscle pain, and fatigue. Do not use polio victim. Say person with post-polio syndrome.

58. Psychiatric disability: Psychotic, schizophrenic, neurotic, and other specific terms should be used only in proper clinical context and should be checked carefully for medical and legal accuracy. Words such as crazy, maniac, lunatic, demented, schizo, and psycho are offensive and should never be applied to people with mental health problems or anyone else. Acceptable terms are people with psychiatric disabilities, psychiatric illnesses, emotional disorders, or mental disorders.

59. Quadriplegia: Sometimes people with quadriplegia refer to themselves as “quads”. If so, use in quotes. Otherwise, spell out terminology. It is best to ask the person which term to use.

60. Rehabilitation: Commonly used for rehabilitation of displaced population due to flood, drought, or any other calamities. However according to World Health Organization, Rehabilitation, “as applied to `disability’ is the combined and coordinated use of medical, social, education and vocational measures for training or retraining the individual to the highest possible level of functioning ability”. Commonly used phrase is `rehabilitation of persons with disability’ or `disability rehabilitation’.

61. Rehabilitation Council of India: RCI an apex, national level organization and statutory body established by Govt. of India, in 1992. Like any other council for professionals, Rehabilitation professionals performd various other functions to develop manpower for rehabilitation of persons with disability.

62. Seeing Eye Dog: Seeing Eye Dog is a registered trademark with the Seeing Eye in Morristown, NJ. Animals, mostly dogs, can provide services to a person with a disability, including, but not limited to, fetching objects for those who use wheelchairs, providing visual clues for those who are blind or alerting deaf individuals to household audio clues. Currently there is no uniform terminology.

63. Seizure: Seizure describes an involuntary muscular contraction, a brief impairment or loss of consciousness, etc., resulting from a neurological condition such as epilepsy or from an acquired brain injury. The term convulsion should be used only for seizures involving contraction of the entire body. Do not use fit, spastic, or attacks. Rather than epileptic, say girl with epilepsy or boy with a seizure disorder.

64. Service animal: Animals, mostly dogs, can provide services to a person with a disability, including, but not limited to, fetching objects for those who use wheelchairs, providing visual clues for those who are blind or alerting deaf individuals to household audio clues. Currently there is no uniform terminology. Seeing Eye Dog is a registered trademark with the Seeing Eye in Morristown, NJ.

65. Small/short stature: Small/short stature describes people under 4’10” tall. Do not refer to these individuals as dwarfs or midgets, which implies a less than full adult status in society. Dwarfism is an accepted medical term, but it should not be used as general terminology. Say persons of small (or short) stature. Some groups prefer the term “little people”.

66. Spastic: It is not appropriate for describing a person with cerebral palsy or other disabilities. Muscles, not people, are spastic. Referring to someone as a “spaz”is equally inappropriate.

69. Speech disorder: Speech disorder is a condition in which a person has limited or difficult speech patterns. Do not use mute or dumb. Use child who has a speech disorder. For a person with no verbal speech capability, say woman without speech.

68. Speech Pathologist / Therapist: These terms should be used for a para-medical professional who diagnoses speech problems of a person and provides therapy services to the persons with speech disability. In India, they are not considered doctors. Hence do not address or term them as doctors as they are not medical professionals.

69. Spinal cord injury: Spinal cord injury describes a condition in which there has been permanent damage to the spinal cord. Quadriplegia denotes substantial or significant loss of function in all four extremities. Paraplegia refers to substantial or significant loss of function in the lower part of the body only. Say man with paraplegia, woman who is paralyzed, or person with a spinal cord injury.

90. Stroke: Stroke is caused by interruption of blood to the brain. Hemiplegia (paralysis on one side) may result. Stroke survivor or person who has had a stroke is preferred over stroke victim.

91. Substance dependence: Substance dependence refers to patterns of substance use that result in significant impairment in at least three life areas (family, employment, health, etc.) over any 12-month period. Substance dependence is generally characterized by impaired control over consumption, preoccupation with the substance, and denial of impairment in life areas. Substance dependence may include physiological dependence/tolerance withdrawal. Although such terms as alcoholic and addict are medically acceptable, they may be derogatory to some individuals. Acceptable terms are people who are substance dependent or people who are alcohol dependent. An individual who has a history of dependence on alcohol and/or other drugs and is no longer using alcohol or drugs may identify themselves as recovering or as a person in recovery.

92. Temporarily able-bodied (TAB): A term used to the notion that sooner or later, everyone will acquire some kind of disability. This is not a uniformly accepted term.

93. Uses a wheelchair: People use wheelchairs for independent mobility. Some people prefer “person who uses a wheelchair” or “wheelchair-user”. Avoid using “confined to a wheelchair”, “wheelchair bound”, “wheelchair rider” and “vertically challenged”.

94. Vertically challenged: Used in colloquial English to refer to a person who is “not tall enough”. Applying this term to a person with a disability such as a person of short stature or someone who uses a wheelchair is inaccurate.

95. Veg, vegetable, vegetative state: These terms are inaccurate when used to describe people without physical, sensory or cognitive functioning. Instead, use precise medical terminology or general terms such as “comatose” or “non-responsive”.

96. Victim, victim of: These terms come with the assumption that a person with a disability is in fact a victim, suffering or living a reduced quality of life. Instead, use neutral language when describing a person who has a disability. Not every person with a disability “suffers”, is a “victim” or “stricken”. Instead simply state the facts about the nature of the person’s disability. For example, “he has muscular dystrophy”.

99. Visual impairment: Describes a person with some vision which they sometimes use in combination with canes, dogs and other vision aids. Using the term “blind” for someone with “low vision” or who is “partially sighted” is inaccurate. Currently, there is no uniform terminology. It is best to ask the person which term to use.

98. Wheelchair: Unless mentioning a wheelchair is essential to the story, leave it out. People use wheelchairs for independent mobility. Do not use “confined to a wheelchair” or “wheelchair bound”. Instead use “person who uses a wheelchair” or “wheelchair user”. Avoid phrases like “wheelchair rider” and “vertically challenged”. Non-users often associate wheelchairs with illness and aging, and may meet them with fear. Keep in mind that a wheelchair can be a source of freedom and independence. Describing someone as being “confined to a wheelchair” is akin to making a judgement about them. The definition of “confined”is a relative term; people who need to use a wheelchair and do not have one might be confined to bed, home, etc.

99. Wheelchair-bound: A person is not bound to a wheelchair; a wheelchair enables a person to be mobile. Use wheelchair-user or uses a wheelchair.

Portrayal Issues
Portrayal Issues
Please consider the following when writing about people with disabilities:
Do Not Focus on Disability unless it is crucial to a story. Avoid tear-jerking human interest stories about incurable diseases, congenital impairments, or severe injury. Focus instead on issues that affect the quality of life for those same individuals, such as accessible transportation, housing, affordable health care, employment opportunities, and discrimination.
Do Not Portray Successful People with Disabilities as Superhuman or Heroes. Even though the public may admire superachievers, portraying people with disabilities as superstars raises false expectations that all people with disabilities should achieve this level.
Do Not Sensationalize a Disability by saying afflicted with, crippled with, suffers from, victim of, and so on. Instead, say person who has multiple sclerosis.
Do Not Use Generic Labels for disability groups, such as “the retarded”, “the deaf”. Emphasize people, not labels. Say people with mental retardation or people who are deaf.
Put People First, not their disability. Say woman with arthritis, children who are deaf, people with disabilities. This puts the focus on the individual, not the particular functional limitation. Because of editorial pressures to be succinct, we know it is not always possible to put people first. If the portrayal is positive and accurate, consider the following variations: disabled citizens, non-disabled people, wheelchair-user, deaf girl, paralyzed child, and so on. Crippled, deformed, suffers from, victim of, the retarded, infirmed, the deaf and dumb, etc., are never acceptable under any circumstances. Also, do not use nouns to describe people, such as epileptic, diabetic, etc.
Emphasize Abilities, not limitations. For example: uses a wheelchair/braces, walks with crutches, rather than confined to a wheelchair, wheelchair-bound, differently-abled, birth difference, or crippled. Similarly, do not use emotional descriptors such as unfortunate, pitiful, and so forth.
Do Not Use Condescending Euphemisms. Disability groups also strongly object to using euphemisms to describe disabilities. Terms such as handicapable, mentally different, physically inconvenienced, and physically challenged are considered condescending. They reinforce the idea that disabilities cannot be dealt with upfront.
Do Not Imply Disease when discussing disabilities that result from a prior disease episode. People who had polio and experienced after effects have post-polio syndrome. They are not currently experiencing the disease. Do not imply disease with people whose disability has resulted from anatomical or physiological damage, e.g., person with spina bifida or cerebral palsy. Reference to disease associated with a disability is acceptable only with chronic diseases, such as arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, or multiple sclerosis. People with disabilities should never be referred to as patients or cases unless their relationship with their doctor is under discussion.
Show People With Disabilities as active participants of society. Portraying persons with disabilities interacting with non-disabled people in social and work environments helps break down barriers and open lines of communications.
Ten Commandments of Etiquette
Ten Commandments of Etiquette
Outlined below are the “Ten Commandments of Etiquette for Communicating with People with Disabilities” to help you in communicating with persons with disabilities:
1. When talking with a person with a disability, speak directly to that person rather than through a companion or sign language interpreter.
2. When introduced to a person with a disability, it is appropriate to offer to shake hands. People with limited hand use or who wear an artificial limb can usually shake hands. (Shaking hands with the left hand is an acceptable greeting).
3. When meeting a person, who is visually impaired, always identify yourself and others who may be with you. When conversing in a group, remember to identify the person to whom you are speaking.
4. If you offer assistance, wait until the offer is accepted. Then listen to or ask for instructions.
5. Treat adults as adults. Address people who have disabilities by their first names only when extending the same familiarity to all others. (Never patronize people who use wheelchairs by patting them on the head or shoulder).
6. Leaning on or hanging on to a person’s wheelchair is similar to leaning or hanging on to a person and is generally considered annoying. The chair is part of the personal body space of the person who uses it.
7. Listen attentively when you’re talking with a person who has difficulty in speaking. Be patient and wait for the person to finish, rather than correcting or speaking for the person. If necessary, ask short questions that require short answers, a nod or shake of the head. Never pretend to understand if you are having difficulty doing so. Instead, repeat what you have understood and allow the person to respond. The response will clue you in and guide your understanding.
8. When speaking with a person who uses a wheelchair or a person, who uses crutches, place yourself at eye level in front of the person to facilitate the conversation.
9. To get the attention of a person, who is deaf, tap the person on the shoulder or wave your hand. Look directly at the person and speak clearly, slowly, and expressively to determine if the person can read your lips. Not all people who are deaf can read lips. For those who do lip-read, be sensitive to their needs by placing yourself so that you face the light source and keep hands, cigarettes and food away from your mouth when speaking.
10. Don’t be embarrassed if you happen to use accepted, common expressions such as “See you later,” or “Did you hear about that?” that seems to relate to a person’s disability. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you’re unsure of what to do.
Tips for Journalists: Interviewing People with Disabilities
Tips for Journalists: Interviewing People with Disabilities
The Best Tip: Ask the Expert – the person you are interviewing – about how best to provide their access.
Before the Interview
Ask the interviewee if they require any specific accommodation (Wheelchair access, quiet place, interpreter, etc.). If unsure about how to provide the accommodation, ask the interviewee.
Allow plenty of time for the interview. Some accommodations require additional time (for example: interpreters, speech boards, etc.)
Setting up the Interview
Place yourself and the camera (if applicable) at interviewee’s eye level. If the interview will take place on a platform, and the interviewee has a physical disability, be sure there is proper physical access to the interviewing area.
During the Interview
When interviewing a person with disability, speak directly to that person and maintain eye contact rather than interacting directly with an interpreter or companion. Use the same interviewing techniques and manner as you usually do. Speak in relaxed, everyday tones.
When talking with a person with a hearing loss, be sure to face them and do not cover your mouth when you speak. Place yourself so that you face the light source and are not backlit. Make sure you talk when the person is looking at you.
When meeting an interviewee who has a visual impairment, identify yourself and others who may be with you. When conversing in a group, remember to identify the person to whom you are speaking.
Listen attentively when you are talking with a person who has difficulty in speaking. Be patient and wait for the person to finish, rather than correcting or speaking for them. Never pretend to understand if you are having difficulty in doing so. Instead, repeat what you have understood and allow the person to respond.
When covering an event where a sign or oral interpreter is present, be aware of the communication between an interpreter or real time captioner and the person using their services. Avoid walking between them or blocking their communication while taking a photograph. Often people who use interpreters are located near the front in a designated section. Remember, blocking this communication is like pulling the plug on the public address system.
Other Etiquette Suggestions
Focus on the person you are interviewing, not the disability.
Shake hands when greeting a person with a disability. People with prosthetics or limited hand motion usually shake hands.
If you offer assistance, wait until the offer is accepted. Then listen or ask for instructions. A wheelchair or other assistive devise is part of the person’s body space. Don’t lean or hang on a person’s wheelchair.
Service animals and guide dogs are working. Do not make eye contact, praise, talk or pet the animal. It is distracting for the animal and owner.
The following tips from Reporting Diversity Handbook by the British Diversity Institute are also very useful:
People with disabilities —whether physical or mental — are frequently ignored by the media. When they are not ignored, they are usually written about as people to be either mocked or pitied. Reporters often discuss their problems and issues with doctors, government authorities and others without ever talking to disabled people themselves, so they have little idea what those affected are feeling and thinking about their own situation. This may have something to do with the fact that it can be hard to find people with disabilities to interview. People with schizophrenia, retardation and other mental and emotional difficulties have long been hidden a way, either at home or in institutions, because their families have been ashamed of them or have wanted to protect them from social discrimination. The same is true for people missing limbs or suffering from cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and other physical handicaps, especially since society has made little effort to accommodate their needs in education, the work-place and the physical infrastructure, such as streets and public buildings.
Another difficulty is that people with some forms of disability are frequently also members of other social groups viewed negatively by the larger society. Although anyone can become infected with HIV and AIDS, drug addicts, prostitutes and homosexuals who generally are not accepted as valuable members of society are frequently viewed as having the greatest risk.
Here are some things to keep in mind when covering people with disabilities:
—– First, make sure to cover them. And when you cover them, make sure to actually talk to them. What others tell you about them even if they speak of them sympathetically should be just the starting point for your material. You should make contact with disabled people themselves and ask them if what other people have told you corresponds to how they themselves view their situation. If there is a contradiction in what you hear, you can go back to the doctors or others who perceive themselves as experts and question them again.
—– Do not cover disabled people only in the context of their disabilities. Disabled people have interests, careers, and families like everyone else. If you come across people who have attained success as artists, politicians, or professionals in spite of having a disability, that might make a good story. Spend some time with them to find out how they overcame many difficulties on the path to success. Ask them what advice they might have for others in similar situations.
—– Be careful with language. Every language has its own set of words some insulting, some not-to describe people with disabilities. You may think that a particular word or expression is not hurtful, but you are not the best judge. If people with that disability tells you that they prefer to be referred to in some other way, you should seriously consider their request.
—– One important aspect of journalistic coverage of people with disabilities is the issue of access. Write a story about whether or not society is making an effort to allow people with disabilities to participate in important social activities. If it is not, why not? Is it a question of money, lack of political will, deeply entrenched prejudice, or some other reason? What kind of education and professional opportunities are open or closed to disabled people?
—– Explore the issue of whether, and how people with disabilities are forming groups or working with other non-governmental organizations to promote their rights. In many countries in Eastern Europe, for example, people with HIV and AIDS have created their own associations, both to find a way to support one another and to pressure the government and society to acknowledge their needs. In some areas, people with mental and physical disabilities, and their families, are demanding greater access to effective treatment. Find out what is going on in your region.
—– Make sure you know what you are talking about. If you are writing about people with HIV, for example, make sure you understand the difference between being infected with HIV and having AIDS. Make sure you understand how HIV is transmitted and how it is not transmitted. Journalists have a wonderful opportunity to inform people, but they also have a great responsibility not to misinform them.
—– There is a difference, for a journalist, between feeling empathy for people with disabilities and pitying them. If you feel empathy, it means you respect them as individuals because you have spoken with them, spent time with them, observed their lives first hand. Pity is often tinged with a condescending attitude that you, or others, know better than they do what they need. If you have formed opinions about the people with disabilities based on what people other than the disabled say about them, you are more likely to feel pity and are not yet prepared to write about their issues.
—– Because the disabled people are often hidden from society, it can be difficult to find people to talk to. The best approach to start is to contact groups and NGOs that represent them. Talk to the organizers to develop a general understanding of their concerns, and ask them to put you in touch with some of their members. You should also make sure to talk to others not involved with the group, who may have a different perspective or may offer more forthright or straightforward thoughts and opinions.
—– It is often true that stereotypes have an element of truth. There may be many beggars or homeless people among those without limbs but that is most likely because society does not offer them any other choices. Drug addicts may have a higher rate of HIV but that may be because they do not understand how to protect themselves from infection or do not have access to clean needles. The reasons for the association often have deep roots in society’s problems, and blaming the people themselves is not the role of the journalist.

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