Recently we heard from a reader concerned with words used when speaking and writing about people with disabilities. We thought we would share some of the information she forwarded to the Great Neck Record from a 1993 document, ''Words That Empower,'' with thoughts from the President's Committee on Employment of People With Disabilities and from Guidelines to Reporting and Writing about People With Disabilities.
The document begins: ''Positive language empowers. When writing or speaking about people with disabilities, it is important to put the person first. Catch-all phrases such as 'the blind,' or 'the deaf,' or 'the disabled' do not reflect the individuality, equality or dignity of people with disabilities.''
For example, speak or write of a person with disabilities, not a disabled person; instead of using the term ''the blind,'' describe the person a person who is blind or a person who is visually impaired; do not use the words ''a CP victim,'' but refer to him or her as a person with cerebral palsy; you need not speak of anyone as ''crippled, lame or deformed,'' but speak, or write, of someone physically disabled; someone with a seizure has a seizure, and not a "fit;'' and never use the words ''retarded'' or ''mentally defective,'' but instead speak or write of a person with developmental disabilities.
In general, try to be mindful of some of the following recommendations: unless crucial to the story, focus on the individual and not his or her disability; portray successful people with disabilities as successful people, not as superhumans; when dealing with stories on people with disabilities, consider the broader implications of how quality of life issues impact a large and growing segment of the population; be accurate in describing disabilities; emphasize abilities, not limitations.
According to the document, ''The ultimate objective of all of these suggestions is to move our society to the point where disability status is only one variable in the full range of human experiences. In other words, when thinking about people with disabilities, think people first.''
A little knowledge, a little sensitivity, can go a long way in ensuring that all of our fellow human beings are treated with understanding, with proper dignity and respect. It's the least that we all deserve.
Wendy K. Kreitzman