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NEWS > Writing & Interviewing Tips

Here are some simple tips and techniques for writing about and interviewing people with disabilities.

People with disabilities, like other minority groups, are actively seeking full civil rights.  They want to be accepted in their communities as equals.  What you write and say can enhance the dignity of people with disabilities and can promote positive attitudes about their disabilities.

Let your words emphasize the person’s worth and abilities, not the disabling condition. 

• Person first terminology – person is more important than disability.
     o Person who is deaf is not deaf person
     o Person who uses a wheelchair not wheelchair bound
• Person can call themselves anything they want – “crip”, “gimp”, etc.
     o Those are “inside the club” terms used peer to peer between people who have disabilities.
• Don’t play the “we are just alike game”
     o If you have temporarily used a wheelchair or crutches for 10 min. or even a few months, you do not know what it is like to be permanently dependent on these mobility devices.

So don’t say “I know just how you feel.”

DO use Affirmative Phrases
Person with disabilities
Person who is blind, person who is visually impaired
Person who is deaf, person who is hard of hearing
Person who has Multiple Sclerosis
Person without disabilities, non disabled person
Unable to speak, non-verbal
Experiencing a seizure

Do NOT use Negative Phrases
“The” Handicapped, “The” Disabled, “The” Blind
Suffers a hearing impairment
Afflicted by MS; CP; victim
Retarded; mentally defective
Normal person (implies the person with a disability isn’t normal.)


• Ask the client what communication strategy he or she prefers. If the person uses an interpreter, address the person, not the interpreter.
• Avoid blocking their view of your face with your hand or something else, and make sure the lighting is good. It's likely the person uses at least some lip reading to supplement interpretive assistance. Be aware it's more difficult for the person to lip read when the speaker has a beard or a mustache.
• Speak clearly and at a moderate pace and enunciate clearly, without shouting or exaggerating your lip movements. Don't mumble. Encourage the person to tell you when he or she missed what was said.
• Be sure the client knows the topic of conversation. Cue him or her when the topic changes.
• Be prepared to repeat and rephrase if necessary. You might want to occasionally spell out a word, such as an unfamiliar name.
• Don't speak with your back turned to the person or when you are walking away from the individual. This makes it harder for the person to hear you.
• When Referring to the individual remember they are a person first, so refer to them as “a person who is deaf” instead of a “deaf person.”  

Many people who are blind are quite mobile and independent. In fact, some people who are blind believe and have proven that, with proper training and opportunity, they can reduce their blindness to a physical nuisance.
• When first meeting the person, introduce yourself, explaining your responsibilities.
• When you first begin to work with someone who is blind, it may take a while before he or she can distinguish your voice from other voices in a team or group. You can accelerate this learning process when you meet by preceding your conversation with a brief phrase to re-identify yourself. It can be as simple as, "Hi Jeff, this is David."
• Always ask the person if he or she needs your assistance, such as opening a door. Guide someone who is blind only after the person has accepted your offer to do so. Allow the person to hold your arm rather than you holding theirs. Those who are blind, like others, feel most comfortable when they control their own body movements.
• Tell the person when you have brought new items into their environment, describing what they are and, most important, where you have put them.
• Refer to the individual as “a person who is blind”, not a “blind person.”

• Not all wheelchairs are the same. There are different sizes and shapes to meet different needs, including manual or motorized wheelchairs. Therefore, the fact that one client is able to access a particular area in a wheelchair does not mean another person in a wheelchair can access the same area. Also, there is a wide range of physical ability existing among people who use wheelchairs.
• When introduced to the person, offer to shake hands. People with limited hand use or artificial limbs can usually shake hands. Also, it's acceptable to use the left hand for a greeting.
• Review the environment for barriers to access. These things could be problems: narrow aisles that do not allow wheelchair passage; workstation surfaces too high or low; doors too heavy for an individual to open.
• If you're asked to fold, carry or store a wheelchair, treat it with the same kind of respect you would if you were holding someone's eyeglasses. The two are similar in many ways. They can break, are difficult to have repaired on short notice and weekends, and it is extremely disruptive to the user when they are out of commission.
• If possible, sit down when talking to a person who uses a wheelchair or just stay seated so that you are at the person's eye level.
• Avoid terms such as "wheelchair bound." Remember that wheelchairs provide access and enable individuals to get around; they should be viewed as any other assistive device. Use terms such as “a person who uses a wheelchair.”




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