The Inclusive University

Disability History Month: Language   

Posted by Anna Houghton | 0 Comments 

From By Collette Fox, WECIL trustee.

This month is Disability History Month, an annual event which raises awareness of issues affecting disabled people, and encourages discussion around different themes. The topic to explore this year is language – the language used to describe disabled people, and the language used by disabled people to describe themselves. You may think that words have little meaning, but often they can have an impact on how you see yourself, other people and the world. Here's our advice on what language we like to use.

Positive or negative language

Sometimes, we use language that could sound negative without even realising. Compare the two descriptions of someone being 'wheelchair bound' or a 'wheelchair user' for example. Which one sounds more positive? Using the term 'wheelchair bound' kind of implies that someone is defined and restricted by their wheelchair. Whereas a 'wheelchair user' gives us a picture of an everyday person who also happens to use a wheelchair.

Communicating in an inclusive way
Consider also the way in which you communicate with a disabled person. For instance a deaf or hearing impaired person may be able to read your lips when you speak to them, so make sure they can see your face, talk directly to them and don't cover your mouth. If you see someone struggling in the street, just ask if they would like some help. There's no need to jump straight in or be offended if they say they are ok, they may just be working hard to tackle a challenge themselves.

Person with disabilities or disabled person?

It can sometimes seem hard to keep up with so called political correctness and changing 'advice' on the language we should use around disabled people. Many people feel it's better to put the person first and describe an individual as a 'person with a disability'. Here at WECIL we prefer a 'disabled person', as in line with the Social Model of Disability. This states that it's actually an inaccessible world, rather than a person's impairment or 'disability' that stops someone from being able to do the same things as other people. So, if we all work to ensure we're removing these barriers or even better, not creating them in the first place, we can build an inclusive world.

All of these little differences in the way we talk about disability encourages us think and act differently, so we can work together to create a more inclusive, healthy and positive community.

WECIL (The West of England Centre for Inclusive Living) is a charity run by and for disabled people in Bristol and the surrounding areas. We support over 4,000 disabled people every year to have more choice and control over their own lives. You can find out more at

WECIL is a member of ACFA: The Advice Network. You can find out more about ACFA on their website


tags: Disability
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