Language plays a central role in how we view disability – Disability History Month

Throughout Disability History Month we have been celebrating the lives of disabled people from the past such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Alfred Nobel and Frida Kahlo and explored the changing lives and experiences of older disabled people living in the UK.

In the final week of Disability History Month, Jack Welch, who campaigns to raise awareness of the challenges people with autism face, looks at the importance of language, the theme of UK Disability History Month 2016.

In the UK, we’ve made good progress in recent decades to provide legislation on the rights of disabled people. Despite these changes there are deeper challenges and barriers people with visible or invisible conditions still encounter.

For someone like myself on the autistic spectrum, the obstacles to get the right level of support in a mainstream school and identifying what reasonable adjustments are needed in employment are just a couple of examples that many, like myself, have to confront.

Disability hate crime

From recent research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, figures on disability related hate crime are worrying and attitudes towards disabled people are still of great concern. Disabled people aged 10-15 were almost twice as likely to have experienced a crime compared to non-disabled people (22% contrasted with 12.4%).

If levels of hate crime are still happening at this rate, despite recent developments and more positive portrayals of disabled people as we’ve seen with Rio 2012, we need to redouble our efforts to make people more aware of using language that is respectful of disabled people.

Jack smiles at the cameraI experienced a disability related incident on London underground recently. I was left shaken and frustrated at other people’s ambivalence and that they choose to look away. Those who verbally attacked me were younger than me. Scope’s End the Awkward research, shows younger people often have difficulty in approaching a disabled person. What role can schools and education play to improve this attitude towards disabled people?

So what can we do? Newspapers and other media outlets still use phrases like ‘suffering with autism’. I have autism, I don’t feel I ‘suffer’ from it.

Language plays a central role in how we perceive individuals with certain conditions and that in turn reflects our behaviour when we meet a disabled person.

We all must consider the language we use and how it can affect disabled people, and we need to begin from a young age. It’s more difficult to confront and combat prejudice at a later stage.

We need to prevent negative attitudes from developing and leading to the incident I experienced.

Find out more about Disability History Month on our website.

Jack has started a discussion about the importance of Disability History Month on Scope’s community where people can share their own experiences and discuss the impact language has on their lives.

One thought on “Language plays a central role in how we view disability – Disability History Month”

  1. Awesome article – its horrible that you were verbally attacked. 😦

    >Newspapers and other media outlets still use phrases like ‘suffering with autism’. I have autism, I don’t feel I ‘suffer’ from it.

    Yeah – although I see ‘suffering with’ way, way less now. My friend Sabrina, who has autism, wrote an article in Exposure Magazine on the way people tell others what disability they have. She prefers ‘I have autism’ as it puts her as a person first. http://exposure.org.uk/2016/02/autism-and-identity-is-it-a-language-issue/

    Quick thing – Rio 2016, not 2012 🙂

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