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  • Writer's pictureThabo Baseki

Inclusive Language - Your Aim, My Aim

Life gives us the opportunity to milk the good out of it. Whether it be in our social life, academic life, or even professional life, we all can do much if the environment is inviting for all. Our words and actions can reflect if we are welcoming everyone regardless of our culture, race, background, form of life and other distinctive characteristics. With all this in mind, it is the intent of this article to walk you through language that is inclusive for people with disabilities.

A man and woman communicating using sign language

Did You Know?

Globally, there are over one billion people with disabilities, and because of that, BlindSmart seeks to provide you with the essential knowledge you need in order to be inclusive of them. Will you join in making the world welcoming? Read on to discover:

  • The importance of using an inclusive language

  • Essential terms

  • Mode of communicating with PWDs

Inclusive Language Matters

Have you ever listened to someone giving a presentation, reading an article, or watching a video only to be left feeling less included? In most cases, people with disabilities feel that way. Why so? Because the language used may be less inclusive of them.

But first, what do we really mean when we say inclusive language? This is a language that avoids the use of expressions that suggests the exclusion of a particular group of people. Such examples includes the term “disabled person.”

Why Use Inclusive Language with PWDs?

Here are a few reasons to motivate you to use inclusive language.

  1. We all are unique in our own way, and inclusive language recognizes the differences between people regardless of our gender and disability, just to mention a few.

  2. It symbolizes acceptance: How we perform similar tasks differs from one person to another. An inclusive language suggests that we take note of the abilities that people with disabilities have.

  3. Personal interest: When we use inclusive language, we display our personal interest to people with disabilities and this help them to feel included when in our space.

Keep These Terms Handy!

Let’s learn a few terms together:

  • Accessibility

This refers to the user-friendliness of a product or service by different kinds of people. For example, can blind people independently use your website or app? Can wheelchair users access your building on their own? Can the deaf community benefit from your video content without an interpreter?

  • Assistive Technology

Refers to a piece of software, or an equipment designed to aid people with disabilities to function independently. Such examples includes screen readers for people with a vision disability, internet caption telephone service for the deaf and hard of hearing, and wheelchairs.

  • Disability

A mismatch in interaction between the features of a person's body and the features of the environment in which they live. Accoridng to Microsoft Accessibility, types of disabilities includes hearing, speech, vision, mobility, learning, and neurodiversity.

Communicating with PWDs

We have looked at a few terms relating to disability. What if you met someone who is living with a disability? Could you confidently converse with them? For many, this is a struggle.

Explore Ways of Communicating with PWDs

Please note that we do not claim that these suggestions will work for everyone. If the person you are communicating with does not appreciate any of the suggestions you used from here, apologize and ask for their suggestion on how they would like you to talk to them.

All right - let’s start.

Person-first language:

Just as does Microsoft, we recommend that you use people-first language whenever possible. What do we mean? Instead of saying, "a disabled person" or "a visually impaired person," say, "a person with a disability" or "a person with a vision disability." If you made done this mistake in the past, do not beat yourself about it. We have been there too, and our previous articles reflects that, but we learn every day. Start now. How about expressions such as handicapped, retarded, mute, or wheelchair-bound? Refrain from using these, as they are now outdated and offensive to people with disabilities.

Interacting with PWDs

They say “first impressions last long,” and you know that right? How you treat a person the first time you meet them will go a long way in influencing what they perceive of you. Let’s briefly cover a bit on your interaction with someone with disability.

  • Talk to them directly: Suppose you are offering a service, and either someone with a vision disability or hearing is interested in your offer. To whom will you talk? A particular person with a disability or their assistant? You do well to talk to the person directly. Unless it is something that requires their assistant’s attention, do talk to the person directly. You might say, “But I don’t know sign language, how will I talk to someone with deafness?” Worry not, talk to the person directly, the interpreter will communicate your message to the person in a first-person form. Avoid saying to the interpreter, “Ask him how much he is willing to pay for the service.” Just say, “How much are you willing to pay for this service?” That way you are talking to the person, not their assistant.

  • Eye contact: When talking to PWDs, do face them, just as you would with any other person. Do not face anywhere else or at people with them while talking specifically to them. Give them dignity. Blind people can tell if you are talking to them facing elsewhere. This ability on its own indicates how important facing your listener is vital, even when they cannot see you.

  • Do not touch: Suppose you are talking to a vision-disabled person, and he has his white cane in his hand. Do not reach out to his hand and take it from people before you are permitted to do so.

  • Be yourself: Do not speak with a louder voice just because someone is living with disability unless the person asks you to do so. Be normal and natural.

  • Communication changes: When talking to someone with a vision disability, announce any changes that takes place in your surroundings. May be someone joins in your table, or maybe you are leaving. Announce it and spare a person the embarrassment of talking alone when you have left.

These are some of the few ideas you can incorporate when associating with PWDs. We recommend that you take the free, two and half hour course, Accessibility Fundamentals Training by Microsoft to learn more on this subject.

Comment from Someone Living With a Vision Disability

One of the writers of this article had this to state regarding the term 'disabled person': “Whenever I hear this word, I feel like the speaker does not acknowledge my capabilities, but sees me as someone who cannot function. To me, the word 'disabled' means dysfunctional, debilitated or incapacitated, defective beyond, inhibited or reduced to nothing. I find no pleasure in hearing it.” - Thabo Baseki

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