Disability equality informed language

Words for our worlds

The way I talk about disability has changed over the years. I began by expressing my own ideas based on personal experience, but I was uncomfortable speaking for others. I therefore looked for a shared perspective, one with words that helped define a joint view – a political intent. I found Disability Equality, which gave me ideas that helped make sense of my experience from an activist perspective. Over the past decade I’ve added Critical Disability Theory to my bag, with its scholarly terminology, it has helped me be even more nuanced about the way I describe the situation I find myself in. It has been a learning curve, but as a professional I saw it as my duty to speak clearly about the prejudice, discrimination, and inequality the disabled population face. To do this I needed to say that while my experience is not unique, it can be alternative to many, while being shared by some – if not all others.

A few words I’m careful about:

Ableism: a specific type of societal oppression, akin to homophobia, racism, sexism, classism, agism, or religious intolerance held in the language of the workplace and the cultures of institutions and in society more widely.

D/deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations: groups and networks run and organised by Disabled people, where Deaf people recognise themselves as a community with their own language – in the UK British Sign Language.

Disablism: a specific type of organisational oppression levelled directly at Disabled people, much like misogyny or religious hate speech that operates within the workplace and in networks across organisational boundaries. 

Disabled people* (with a capital D) is sometimes used to in this document reflect the choice people who choose to identify and political voice aligned to the Disabled People’s Movement. In the United Kingdom, disabled people is used more widely in preference to ‘people with disabilities’ globally, the choice is a reference and an acknowledgement to Disability Studies and the Disabled people’s movement.

The disabled population I use, quite specifically, to indicate that not all disabled people are part of the Disabled people’s movement, or self-identify as Disabled people, or even like the term ‘disabled’. ‘Population’ is used to indicates a group defined by statistics, a large number of individuals who experience discrimination – ableism [estimated at 1 in 10]. 

The Deaf and Disabled people’s civil rights movement, or the Disabled people’s movement, is used to indicate a network of disabled individuals and allies who view campaigning organisations as a group – one of many civil rights groups. Disabled activists can be viewed as anti-ableist, as holding a position against ableism – like feminists or anti-racists.

Impairment is not a word the whole disabled population are comfortable with, it is used in the following to mean condition, diagnosis and difference. However it is never used to imply a chosen identity, which is better understood here as personal choice. 

Professional and worker is used fairly interchangeably, to refer to people in jobs and employees, and therefore in paid roles within an organisation – and beyond its 4 walls. 

I have impairments, these affect how I navigate the world, I identify as Disabled and part of the D/deaf and Disabled People’s movement, I’ve worked with Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations’ and stand as an anti-ableist in my work, my associations and community.

*Note: the word to describe the disabled population varies according to context internationally, with different individuals preferring people with disabilities to disabled people. If we are to use language to reflect the social model, the later seems more respectful, while people with impairments may prefer the people first message.

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