Disabled person vs. person with… The debate continues

Esi HardyAttitudes, Communication, Customers, Employees, Inclusion, LanguageLeave a Comment

sticks and stones

The Context

Over the last few months and throughout my career, there have been many conversations about whether the term “disabled people” should be utilised over the term “people with disabilities”.

Whilst this is a personal choice, most people don’t fully appreciate the differentiation between the two. They therefore believe that it is just a turn of phrase and supports the construction of a sentence.  So, I’ve decided to write an article to put some context to each term.

The social vs medical model of disability

The social model of disability states that disabled people are only disabled because society constructs barriers to prevent complete inclusion. For example;

  • The lack of step free access could prevent a physically disabled person entering a building,

  • The lack of access on public transport, ​

  • Disproportionate amounts of accessible accommodation for disabled people,

  • The lack of fully thought out integration in education meaning disabled people are disempowered at an early age.

So the social model states that in order to compensate for that society needs to change in order for the world to be more equal for disabled people.  The medical model, in direct comparison states; that it is the problem of the disabled individual alone. The impairment is a “problem” that needs to be solved.

However, without the medical model there cannot be a social model: in order for us to recognise that there is a problem surrounding equality and inclusion, we must recognise the impairment.

Back to the original question

Do we use the term disabled person, or do we stick to a more traditional, perhaps outdated term; person with a disability? For those people who still might think that it is just a phrase in a context, try this:

Thinking back to the social model: We said that the social model of disability believes that it is society that stops disabled people from fully participating. If we use the term disabled person in the same light we are recognising through language that the only disability are the barriers constructed within society. “Person with disability” suggests nothing needs to change.

As usual, share your thoughts by getting in touch. Click here to talk to us about how your business can engage disabled people through language.

Esi set up Celebrating Disability in 2017; offering training, consulting and auditing to support businesses attract, engage and retain disabled people. Having the opportunity to support businesses to see the wealth of benefits that disabled people can bring to business, either as customers or employees is a privilege. She is passionate about disability equality and inclusion and loves nothing more than that “Ah ha” moment with a client when they see what disability equality and inclusion can do for them.

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