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Diversity Leaders: 6 Things NEVER to Say About Disabilities

How can you adopt a vocabulary that's inclusive and respectful of everyone? This EY exec, an advocate for people with disabilities, shares her insights.

"The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug." —Mark Twain

As diversity leaders, we understand that disability is just another kind of difference, like culture, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. We recognize that diversity is a valuable source of insight and adaptability, generating better business ideas and high-quality service. Differing abilities are a part of that healthy diversity. It's our business to promote inclusiveness throughout our organizations and to advocate for policies and programs that support it.

In building an inclusive culture, we're on the front lines and need to be visibly living our organizations' values every day. It's important that we set the tone not only in what we do and say, but how we say it—in formal messaging as well as everyday conversation. This is where even diversity leaders can get stuck.

Sometimes inclusive language can seem a bit cumbersome, but with a few simple changes each of us can make a significant difference—helping to promote an inclusive culture while setting an example both inside and outside our organizations.

Here are six ways never to talk about disabilities:

1. Never say "a disabled person" or "the disabled." Say a person or people "with disabilities."

Put the person first. A disability is what someone has, not what someone is. For instance, "mentally ill" is less respectful than "person with mental-health issues." "Retarded" is never an appropriate term. Say "intellectual disabilities" or "cognitive disabilities."

2. Never use the term "handicapped parking." Use "accessible parking" instead.

Handicapped parking is still in use (e.g., when referring to parking placards), though the word "handicapped" is offensive and has been virtually eliminated in most other contexts. Remove it from your organization's vocabulary completely by using the term "accessible parking." (It's also more accurate, as accessible describes the parking and handicapped does not.)

3. Never use the term "impaired." Use terms such as "low vision," "hard of hearing" or "uses a wheelchair" instead.

Though it may be used in legal contexts, the word "impaired" can be offensive, as it implies damage. Many people with disabilities do not see themselves as damaged, but simply as different.

4. Never say "hidden" disabilities. Say "non-visible" or "non-apparent."Many disabilities are not apparent, such as serious illnesses or chronic health conditions, sensory limitations, or mental-health and learning disabilities. When referring to these disabilities, avoid using hidden, as it has negative connotations, implying purposeful concealment or shame.

5. Whenever possible, don't say "accommodations." Say "adjustments" or "modifications."This can be tricky, as accommodation has a specific legal meaning and must be used in certain contexts, like policy or government communications. However, accommodation suggests doing a favor for the person who has a disability. An accommodation is a workplace or work-process modification made to enable an employee to be more productive. It is necessary and not a preference or privilege. The terms adjustment and modification capture this idea without suggesting a favor or special treatment, so are preferable whenever specific legal terminology is not required.

6. Never use victim or hero language; describe situations in a straightforward way.

Don't use language that portrays people with disabilities as victims, such as "suffers from," "challenged by," or "struggles with." Say "someone who uses a wheelchair" or "wheelchair user," not "wheelchair-bound" or "confined to a wheelchair." On the flip side, don't use heroic language when people with disabilities complete everyday tasks and responsibilities. People with disabilities don't see themselves as inspiring simply because they're going about their daily lives. We all have challenges—working around those challenges is not heroic, it's just human.

What Terminology Should I Use?

It's worth noting that even in the disability community (yes, that is how advocates for inclusion of people with disabilities refer to ourselves), different people are comfortable with different terminology. Some are fine with the descriptor "disabled," which is in common use in the United Kingdom. Others may freely use "impaired." However, as diversity leaders, it is our job to promote behaviors that make all people feel valued and included. Knowing that some people are offended by these terms, I feel strongly that the most inclusive course is to avoid them and adopt a vocabulary that feels respectful to everyone.

As champions of diversity, we have the opportunity—and the responsibility—to set standards for how our people, organizations and society speak and think about people with disabilities. By shifting our language, we can help shift perceptions and promote the culture of inclusion that is the backbone of healthy diversity in all aspects of life.

— Lori Golden, EY, Abilities Strategy Leader

Golden leads EY's internal initiatives in the Americas to create an enabling environment and inclusive culture for people working with disabilities.


Voter Registration Deadline for 15 States Today

"Do not assume you are properly registered to vote," warns activist Shaun King.

REUTERS

"Do not assume you are properly registered to vote," warned Shaun King repeatedly. His wife went to vote with her registration card in her hand, and they said she couldn't vote. King said some of the reasons that people are being turned away are nefarious.

Fifteen states close registration today, including Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas. States that do not have online registration: Arkansas, Michigan, Mississippi, and Texas.

A list of every state's deadline and links to each state's voting requirements was published by the New York Times.

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Sheltered workshops are vestiges of the past and should be reformed or abolished.

By Carol Glazer, President of the National Organization on Disability

Consider this: Businesses in regions with the lowest unemployment rates employ disproportionate numbers of workers with disabilities [1].

The implication? People with disabilities are more than capable, they're just not companies' first, second, or even third choice. But when employers need talent, they give new people a chance. And when given the chance, people with disabilities succeed.

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Is it Best for Couples Who Have Children with Disabilities to Divorce?

Some parents struggling to pay for health care are considering divorce so their child with a disability could receive Medicaid.

Jake and Maria Grey are considering ending their nine-year marriage to qualify for state aid. / WFAA screenshot

Parents of children with disabilities would be inclined to divorce each other to put their son or daughter in a better position to receive Medicaid. This is more common than you might think.

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Will Congress Leave People with Disabilities Out to Dry?

Program that helps people with disabilities may be another casualty in the Republicans' war against Medicaid.

The future of a longstanding Medicaid program is quickly becoming an endangered species.

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Runner with Cerebral Palsy Gets Lapped in Court

Illinois denies high school senior spot in state competition.

An Illinois high school senior is fighting to make his lifelong dream a reality, but this track star has one major hurdle to jump over. Aaron Holzmueller, of Evanston Township High School, is challenging the Illinois High School Association upon its decision to not implement a category that would allow para-ambulatory runners, or those with disabilities who do not use wheelchairs, to compete in the state meet, as they have in swimming and even track for athletes in wheelchairs.

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Mentors, Sponsors Play Key Roles in Helping People With Disabilities Bring Their Whole Selves to Work

Professionals with disabilities might feel a little out of place because of their visible or non-visible differences. Mentors and sponsors can play a key role in helping them bring their whole selves to work.

EY sat down with Constant Djacga, who was recently promoted to Audit Partner at the firm, for career advice for people with disabilities. Constant is based in EY's San Jose office. He has a speech dysfluency, which causes stuttering issues. 

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Television Continues to Slight People with Disabilities

The number of characters with disabilities has improved but remains "shameful" when compared to real-life demographics, according to one disability activist.

Micah Fowler on the set of "Speechless" / TWITTER

For the past 20 years, GLAAD has conducted a study analyzing the prevalence of LGBT characters on network and streaming television. For seven years, they have extended their research to show the representation of people with disabilities.

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