Updated: Nov 25, 2020
Growing up in the 90s, it was an era of scrunchies, pogs, and The Oregon Trail. It was also a time where phrases such as “that’s so retarded” and “you’re so lame” were heard recklessly in the halls of a junior high school or on MTV’s The Real World to denote perceived disgust or disapproval of an action.
As societies and cultures evolve, thus does its language. We learn that adopting a term for a disability as a denotation of disgust or degradation is disrespectful and damaging to the disability community. A word is but a breath of passing air, but how potent they become in the arsenal of one who knows how to combine them. However, words can be powerful forces to educate.
There are dialogues amongst the disability community regarding person-first language or identity first language, how disability should be defined, and whether the term disability should be used at all. Overlaps of language, culture, philosophies, and intersectionality all contribute to a dynamic faction of terms and identities. This language guide is not intended to disrupt these important linguistic conversations, but instead to support in utilizing more respectful language when speaking amongst and referring to the disability community.
Linguistic Preferences to Address Disability
People-first language is based on the idea that the person is not identified by their disability. For example, “Mark is a person who is blind” rather than “Marks is a blind person.” Contrarily, identity-first language means that the person is proud of their disability and it is a strong part of who they are. For example, “Alena is a Deaf woman” rather than “Alena is a woman who is deaf.” Individuals in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community as well as the Autistic community strongly resonate with identity-first language as they embrace their disability as part of their cultural and/or personal identity from the collective experience arising from systemic barriers. Ultimately, people with disabilities decide how their disability should be stated.
Terminology to Address Disability
Degrading terminology used for people with disabilities all too frequently perpetuates stereotypes and false ideas. The conscious thought of respectful word choices will positively reshape how we communicate about disability in society. By using terms which affirm and empower individuals with disabilities, we can create a culture that moves towards affirmation, equity, and inclusion.
Everyone is affected by pejorative language and misconceptions. In order to evolve as a society, we must own the terminology that we have promoted and created. By working to promote respectful language and recognizing the civil rights of people with disabilities, we ensure a more inclusive and empowered society.
At Dance for All Bodies, we are committed to creating inclusive spaces for individuals of all abilities. This includes the language we utilize around disability. In order to grow, we are open to furthering our education and practices around inclusive language and spaces in service of all abilities. We strive to be a part of positive empowerment and change to reconstruct the image of a dancer and the language of dance.