7. Using the right words

As well as using plain language (see section 6) public library communications need to use appropriate terminology. Your house style guide should list acceptable usage and phraseology. Usage changes often, so you will need to keep it under review.

One area which can cause concern in public libraries is the use of language relating to people with disabilities. Negative terminology can reflect and reinforce negative attitudes. Those attitudes are often the most difficult barriers that people with disabilities have to face.

There is no need to refer to someone’s disability unless it has a direct bearing on the situation or conversation. Below are some examples of acceptable and unacceptable terminology. You can ask regular library users what terminology they prefer.

  • AVOID the disabled, the handicapped – USE people with disabilities
  • AVOID handicap – USE impairment, disability
  • AVOID special needs – USE specific/individual requirements
  • AVOID victim, invalid – USE person who has/person with
  • AVOID suffers from… – USE person who has/person with
  • AVOID crippled by… – USE person who has/person with
  • AVOID wheelchair-bound, confined to a wheelchair – USE wheelchair user
  • AVOID a diabetic – USE person who has diabetes
  • AVOID a spastic – USE person with cerebral palsy
  • AVOID mentally handicapped, retarded – USE person with intellectual impairment
  • AVOID schizophrenic, psychotic, mentally ill person etc - USE person with mental health difficulties
  • AVOID Depressive – USE person who has depression
  • AVOID able-bodied person – USE non-disabled person
  • AVOID deaf (and dumb) – USE person who is deaf, person who is hard-of-hearing (and without speech)
  • AVOID disabled toilet – USE wheelchair-accessible toilet
  • AVOID disabled parking bay – USE parking for people with disabilities

Don’t worry about causing offence by using common figures of speech such as ‘I have to run now’, ‘see you later’ or ‘I heard you were coming’. People with disabilities use all these phrases, and more, themselves.

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