Portrayal of People with Disabilities
Words have power. Negative language leads to harmful action, discrimination, abuse, negative stereotypes, disenfranchisement, and violence; this is true along racial, gender, sexual orientation, and disability lines, and more. "Retard" and "retarded" are derogatory and dehumanizing terms -- on par with the N-word used to describe African Americans, and various hateful terms used to describe members of the Jewish, gay and lesbian, and other minority communities. In addition, words and labels can cause others to think that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are not able to achieve the things that others can achieve.
The advocacy movement led by people with intellectual and developmental disabilities ("self-advocacy") continues to work to eliminate the use of the term 'mental retardation' or derivative terminology due to its harmful impact on their lives. Efforts such as End the Word have been increasingly successful in removing the word both from medical and common language.
People with disabilities do not want to be referred to as a victim or object of pity. People with disabilities are not victims. Disability is just one aspect of the person. Avoid using "suffers from," "afflicted with," "bound," "confined," "sentenced to," "prisoner," "victim," or any other term that implies tragedy. For example, instead of writing "wheelchair-bound" or "confined to a wheelchair" use "person who uses a wheelchair." Instead of "victim of quadriplegia," use "person with quadriplegia" or "people with paraplegia."
Disability is a natural part of the human experience, an aspect of human diversity like other areas of human variation, and most people do not like to be labeled. Therefore it is preferable to use people-first language. People-first language places the emphasis on the person instead of on the disability when discussing most intellectual and developmental disabilities. For example, instead of saying "Down syndrome person," it is preferable to say, "person with Down syndrome."
Some disability self-advocates prefer identity-first language. Identity-first language emphasizes that the disability plays a role in who the person is, and reinforces disability as a positive cultural identifier. Identity-first language is generally preferred by self-advocates in the autistic, deaf, and blind communities. It is important to note that whether a person with a disability prefers people-first or identity-first language is not universal.
If you are unsure as to whether you should use
people-first or identity-first language in order to be respectful,
the best thing to do is to
ask people themselves.