What It Should Have Been: Edition #3

By Alvan Yap

Welcome to the third round of DPA’s public education initiative on the use of proper terminology to describe people with disabilities. (If you’re reading about this for the first time, find out more about Part 1 here and Part 2 here.)

For this edition, I’ll like to plead: Please spare us the suffering.

What do I mean? Read on and find out.

*****

Yahoo! Singapore, 5 August 2013:
Horse-riding gives disabled ‘confidence’ and ‘independence’
(Original story can be found here.)

Original:
One beneficiary, 14-year-old Alina Seow, who suffers from cerebral palsy, says that these horse-riding sessions have “greatly improved” her posture and balance.

Amended:
One beneficiary, 14-year-old Alina Seow, who has cerebral palsy, says that these horse-riding sessions have “greatly improved” her posture and balance.

Why?
Let me quote from just three sources (and there’re a lot more!).

As our very own SG Enable states, phrases such as “suffers from” and “afflicted by” carry negative connotations. In most cases, you can simply say that a person “has” a certain disability.

The UK’s Office for Disability Issues explains: Avoid phrases like ‘suffers from’ which evoke discomfort or pity and suggest constant pain and a sense of hopelessness.

The National Center on Disability & Journalism gives us moreThese terms carry the assumption that a person with a disability is suffering or living a reduced quality of life. Not every person with a disability “suffers,” is a “victim” or is “stricken.” It is preferable to use neutral language when describing a person who has a disability, simply stating the facts about the nature of the disability. For example, “He has muscular dystrophy.”

(Yahoo! Singapore has, unfortunately, not replied to nor acknowledged DPA’s repeated emails on this. We are sure Yahoo! Singapore staff has read them, because they used an extract from our initial email here.

Update on 20 August: Yahoo! has replied and amended the sentence above. We wish to thank the editorial staff at Yahoo! for their understanding and accommodation of our request.)

*****

Straits Times, 14 August 2013
First insurance scheme in Singapore for children, young adults suffering from autism

Original:
First insurance scheme in Singapore for children, young adults suffering from autism

Amended:
First insurance scheme in Singapore for children, young adults with autism

Why?
As above. And persons with autism will not appreciate being told they are “suffering from” autism. Disability is a condition; it is not tragedy.

***

Straits Times, 15 August 2013
Income launches first insurance scheme for autistic kids, youth

Original:
The entire article, including the headline, is peppered by words and phrases such as autistic children and young adults, autistic people, autistic community, autistic son.

Amended:
The more appropriate terms are children and young adults with autism, people with autism, autism community, son who has autism.

Why?
People first, please.

SG Enable says: People with disabilities are individuals first. Their disabling condition or conditions are only one part of who they are. So as far as possible, refer to the person first, then the disability.

Compare and contrast with TODAY’s news report “NTUC Income launches insurance plan for children, young adults with autism” on the same issue which uses mostly people-first language.

***

Straits Times, 19 August 2013
Blind PhD holder proof of meritocracy

Original:
The winner of the National Youth Award last year also helps other handicapped people at the Society for the Physically Disabled.

Amended:
The winner of the National Youth Award last year also helps other people with disabilities at the Society for the Physically Disabled.

Why?
“Handicapped” is an outdated and negative word. It’s also better to use people-first language which is more positive and does not imply the person’s disability is his/her identity.

*****

Despite emailing at least five different Straits Times reporters about the terminology issues in their articles, not a single one has replied or acknowledged DPA’s concern. Nevertheless, we have seen improvements recently and are hopeful the editorial staff at the ST have taken note of these issues, even if they chose not to engage us at DPA. (Note we have not included the names of the reporters in all the compilations here, because our aim is media and public education, and not to point fingers at individuals.)

Other organisations have been more forthcoming and open to our requests. In particular, DPA wishes to also take the opportunity to convey our appreciation to the writer/agency for the ndp.org.sg site, SALT Online, the Workers’ Party (a special thanks to Ms Lee Li Lian), and Womentalktv – the former two for amending and omitting inappropriate words/phrases in their online articles, and the latter two for agreeing to include subtitles/transcripts in their online videos in future. Thank you very much!

Lastly, the United Nations Convention for the Rights of People (CRPD) with Disabilities came into effect in Singapore on 18 August 2013. It calls for respect and equality for people with disabilities – and this extends to the way they are described in the media.

In the spirit of the CRPD, join us in banishing negative stereotypes, labelling and, yes, ‘suffering’ of people with disabilities.

 

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