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Disability Language Style Guide: Recommendations from the WSA

The WSA recommends using “people first” language as we do in our communications—language that puts the person before their diagnosis. For example, a person with a disability; not “disabled person” 
 
Individual with Williams syndrome. Not a “Williams syndrome person or child.” Put the person first. Never mention the disability at all unless it is pertinent to the conversation/communication.
 
Families affected by Williams syndrome, and not WS families.
 
We use the term “individual” quite a bit because “child” seems to exclude adults. “Children and adults” used together is fine too, as well as “daughters and sons.” 
 
Other recommendations:   
 
  • Do not use the word “normal”—instead, we use typical (others may also use non-disabled). For example, a typically developing child.
  • Do not use the words “low-functioning” or “high-functioning” at all. These are unnecessary labels that are not helpful and can be hurtful.
  • Do not say someone “suffers” from something like Williams syndrome.  While there are challenges, we don’t support the negativity that the word suffer implies.  We would rather promote the fact that people can live full lives with WS.
  • We don’t refer to WS as a disease. Please use condition or disorder.  A “disease” perpetuates the notion that something can be cured rather than managed. Condition is the most preferred term currently. We do participate in #RareDiseaseDay because it is a movement and way to promote rare conditions, but Williams syndrome is not categorized as a disease. 
  • Use Intellectual Disability (ID for short) or intellectually disabled, rather than other terms (never retarded or slow).
  • Developmental disabilities is fine—a person with DD. A person/child with a learning disability or challenges is fine too.
  • Special Education is fine to describe programs in schools, but avoid using “special needs” to describe a child or individual. The word “special” in relationship to those with disabilities is now widely considered offensive because it euphemistically stigmatizes that which is different.
  • Caretaker is a good term, as not all people who help support are mothers and fathers. Best to say Parents or Caregivers together, which we do in our communications—more all-encompassing.
  • “Differently-abled” sounds inclusive, but the National Center on Disability and Journalism says it can come off as condescending, so best to avoid. In the same vein, we don’t recommend “handicapable” as a “slang” term, as it’s been described as “cutesy” and condescending. 
  • “Neurotypical” refers to a person who is considered part of the normal variation in the human population and is fine to use. The opposite of this is Neurodiversity, which means that brains operate differently—also fine.
  •  Places should be called “accessible.” For example, a parking lot or a building.  Avoid the term handicapped.
 
**Above all, ask the individual with WS how they would like to be addressed, and honor their wishes. Thank you for joining us as we strive to be mindful about language!