Words can hurt

Words and images used to describe people with disabilities can create a clear-cut constructive image or a tactless depiction that increases the use of humiliating phrases. Often people use terms they feel are perfectly acceptable without realizing the impact they might have on someone with a disability. For example, words to avoid include: abnormal, invalid, misshapen, spaz, disfigured, lame, according to June Isaacson Kailes, a disability policy consultant. Kailes has created some guidelines regarding acceptable and unacceptable terms to use when describing people with disabilities:

Acceptable: He has spina bifida.

Unacceptable: He was afflicted with spina bifida.

Acceptable: She has cerebral palsy.

Unacceptable: She is cerebral palsied, spastic.

Acceptable: A person who uses a wheelchair.

Unacceptable: A person who is wheelchair bound.

Acceptable: She has a disability.

Unacceptable: She is crippled.

Acceptable: A person with a developmental disability or intellectual disability.

Unacceptable: Retard, feebleminded, idiot.

Acceptable: Seizure.

Unacceptable: Fit.

Acceptable: A person who has a speech disability.

Unacceptable: Mute.

‘We can see how happy she is’

Kaila was born with spina bifida and a condition called cri du chat syndrome, a rare genetic disorder causing intellectual disability and delayed development. When she was 14 years old, her parents, Tad and Kim, decided Kaila had outgrown her special services classroom in her public middle school.

Their goal was to help her be as independent as possible. That is being accomplished at Matheny. “She can feed herself and move from room to room in her wheelchair without our help,” Kim says. “And, though she is not very verbal, we can see how happy she is. It’s just amazing the love the staff has for our child.”

Kaila is one of nine “Special Stories” in our new brochure, which you can download here.