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Disability Awareness Month's Message: "Clean Up Your Language"

March is Disability Awareness Month. People with disabilities are using this time to let others see the world through their eyes. KSMU’s Justin Lux has the story.

As part of Disability Awareness Month, the Missouri Planning Council for Developmental Disabilities is working to raise awareness on the issues that are important to people with disabilities. The program director, Charles Nickolaus, says being disabled does not mean that you are unable to contribute to the community.

"Our main goal is that citizens across Missouri will realize that people with disabilities are people first, and that they have unique gifts and talents to give the community that makes it a richer place for all of us to live,” says Nickolaus.

As the month of awareness continues, this message will be promoted across the state, but Nickolaus says it is more important for those who are disabled to actually be included in the community.

Springfield resident Randy Custer works with the Rehabilitation Services for the Blind. He’s legally blind himself, and says the message is simple.

“People with disabilities are just as capable as their non-disabled counterparts,” he says.

Tiffany Daniels, also of Springfield, has been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Aspergers Syndrome. She says the month of awareness is a good thing, but also doesn’t want to be set apart from the rest of society.

“I don’t want to be celebrated for doing something as simple as living in my own place. I would rather just be seen as normal," says Daniels.

In an attempt to promote more sensitive language when talking about the disabled, this year’s theme has been labeled “Clean Up Your Language."

For KSMU News, I’m Justin Lux.


The Missouri Planning Council for Developmental Disabilities has several suggestions on its website on what language to use and not to use when talking about disabilities: among the suggestions are to say a person has a “cognitive or intellectual disability” instead of calling them “mentally retarded,” or that a person “uses” a wheelchair instead of being “confined” to a wheelchair. Also, you can say that someone has a “physical disability” instead of saying they are “crippled.”

The Pacer Center, an advocacy organization for children with disabilities, says it's important to speak of the person first, then describe the disability. The center recommends the following verbage when describing people with disabilities:

Say "child with a disability" instead of "disabled" or "handicapped child"

Say "person with cerebral palsy" instead of "C.P." or "spastic"

Say "person who is deaf" or "hard of hearing" instead of "deaf" and "dumb"

Say "person with epilepsy" or "person with seizure disorder" instead of "epileptic"

Say "person who has..." instead of "afflicted with," "suffers from," or "victim"

Say "with Down syndrome" instead of "mongoloid" or "retard"

Say "emotional disorder" or "mental illness" instead of "crazy," "insane," or "mentally ill"

Say "nonverbal" or "without speech" instead of "mute" or "dumb"

Say "cleft lip" instead of "hare lip"

Say "congenital disability" instead of "birth defect"

Say "paralyzed" instead of "invalid" or "paralytic"