Mind your words

An individual’s inherent dignity and self-respect is an inalienable right a person enjoys legally, morally and ethically.
It is sacrosanct and must not be violated under any circumstances. People with disabilities are equal citizens. Discrimination of any kind against them is a gross violation of their rights that have been enshrined in our Constitution. When it comes to choice of words while referring to people with disabilities, prudence and civility demand us to avoid hurtful and demeaning words, such as ‘disabled’, ‘physically-handicapped’ and ‘mentally-retarded’. In this regard, clear directions have already been issued by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Yet, the belittling words, regrettably, like ‘blind’, ‘crippled’, ‘handicapped’, etc., can still be seen in our communication, both spoken and written.
Such ill-choice of words condemns people with disabilities to limitation, and reduces them to worthlessness, which is indeed painful and shameful, to say the least.
There are some terms to be considered in this regard to cleanse our vocabulary of inconsiderate and unkind words while addressing to the people with disabilities. Using the term ‘normal’ to refer non-disabled person implies that being disabled is ‘abnormal’, which is not true. We must prefer ‘non-disabled’ instead of ‘normal’.
Expressions like ‘confined to a wheel chair’ or ‘wheelchair-bound’ must be avoided and be replaced by ‘wheelchair user’. The term, ‘differently-abled’, too, is not considered appropriate. It is pertinent to mention that some consider it even condescending or simply a way of avoiding talking about disability. Here, ‘person with a disability’ is a better choice as it is a people-first language.
A proper and respectful choice of words from our part can help lessen the sufferings of already marginalised, and, in some cases, stigmatised people, giving them their due rights and respect. The derogatory words against them must be shunned in the same way we avoid slurs and profanities in our everyday conversations.
Khadim Hussain Subhpoto
Hyderabad

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