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Title – The NDA’s Draft Advice Paper on Disability Language and Terminology

By Zandalee Slabbert

The National Disability Authority (NDA) published a draft advice paper on disability language and terminology in March 2022. This paper is intended to serve as a practical guidance document for government departments and public bodies on the language used when speaking and writing about disability. The content of the paper was developed by considering relevant literature, findings from the consultation on the State Party report UNCRPD Committee coordinated by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) and from the NDA’s 2021 consultation with Disabled Person’s Organisations.

According to the paper, there are two main approaches one can adopt for terminology with regard to disability – ‘person-first’ and ‘identity first’:

It should also be acknowledged that there are some who don’t identify with either term; for example; those with hidden disabilities, older people with a disability, and members of the Deaf community.

The paper sets out several recommendations, such as:

  1. Taking a flexible approach and recognising that people may have different preferences in how they wish to be addressed.
  2. Asking people how they wish to be addressed.
  3. Avoiding the use of medicalised language unless in specific situations (clinical settings) where it would be considered appropriate.
  4. Recognising that disability is a part of human diversity and avoiding typical stereotypes.
  5. Preventing the use of euphemisms (example, “differently abled”, “disABILITY”) as it can be seen as condescending by some disabled people.
  6. Avoiding negative language which depicts people with disabilities as objects of pity (example, “suffers from”, “wheelchair bound”).

Also included in the paper is a list of terms which should be avoided as they are not respectful of persons with disabilities. The list contains explanations of why the terms should not be used and provides recommendations for alternative wording.

It is imperative we are more inclusive and respectful in the way that we address each other, and that we’re conscious of how our language affects those around us. By considering the recommendations set out in this guideline the hope is that we can create a more inclusive society for all.

Note that this draft paper is a working document which will be reviewed and updated as required, seeing as language evolves over time. You can read the full document on the NDA’s website

Alternatively, if you need further information on how to make facilities or services more accessible and inclusive, please do not hesitate to contact one of our team on (01) 415 12 85 or e-mail [email protected].