Disabled Person or Person with a Disability?

An Issue of Respect

“An estimated 3.8 million Canadian adults reported having some type of disability.  This represents 13.7% of the Canadian population” (CHRC,online).  A disability is a functional limitation or restriction that interferes with the ability to perform an activity.  Many disabled people face discrimination, ridicule, and disadvantages.  About 60% of claims made to the Human Rights Commission are on the basis of some form of discrimination due to their disability (CHRC); sometimes they are denied rights or services, other times they are ridiculed or made to feel unworthy.  Last year, a woman was asked to leave a grocery store because she was unable to pack her bags fast enough.  According to CBC, No Frills in Alberta told her not to come back until she had someone to help her.  She claims she said to them, “‘Are you telling me because I’m disabled, I can’t shop here?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘I don’t have anyone to help me and I have my prescriptions here.’ He said, ‘Well, you’re just going to have to go somewhere else.’” (Marchitelli, online).  After she complained to head office, they offered her $100 to not speak about it anymore—just one example of the type of discrimination faced by disabled people.

When it comes to students who are disabled, 1 in 4 students with a disability were bullied in school because of it.  “1 in 10 students with a disability end their education early because of their disability” and 40% of “persons with disabilities report their disability has limited their career options” (CHRC).  The report by the human rights commission uncovered that persons with disabilities still face many barriers while trying to access their education.  The four main barriers were: “lack of disability accommodation and support;  lack of services and funding; ineffective dispute resolution;  and a lack of special education and disability supports on First Nations reserves” In addition, “More than one in four persons with disabilities across Canada report being bullied at school due to their condition.  The proportion is highest (33.7%) for men with disabilities living in the territories” (CHRC,online).

This is disheartening because I believed most Canadians are respectful and would not treat people like this.  Most colleges and universities have a pretty good handle on accommodation, and so I do not think most of the numbers represent post-secondary, but I could be wrong.

So how do we speak of them respectfully?  According to the Canadian government, using the term “person” first, and then their disability is more respectful.  For example, the government guidance is that “The word “disabled” is an adjective, not a noun.  People are not conditions.  It is therefore preferable not to use the term “the disabled” but rather “people with disabilities.”(HRSDC).  They emphasize using respectful terms when writing or speaking of them.  Another example is not using the words “brave,” “courageous,” or “inspirational” because we want to emphasize the person with a disability as the same as everyone else in the population and words should emphasize inclusion.  They also request that images chosen not reinforce stereotypes about them and that people should not use references such as “suffers from,” “stricken with,” “afflicted by,” “patient,” “disease,” or “sick”, as these words suggest constant pain or suffering, as well as hopelessness.  (HRSDC).

The main message is that people with disabilities should be treated the same as everyone else.  They should not be discriminated against, refused service, or spoken of in a demeaning way.  Treating everyone with the same level of respect despite their age, gender, race, disability, and so on, is what Canadians are usually known for, and we hope that the instances when this has not been the case will disappear.

Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC). Disability Rights., Government of Canada., Retrieved from:  https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/eng/content/persons-disabilities
Canadian Human Rights Commission: 2012.  Left Out: Challenges faced by persons with disabilities in Canada’s schools. Government of Canada., Retrieved from https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/sites/default/files/challenges_disabilities_schools_eng.pdf
Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC).  A Way with Words and Images. Government of Canada., Retrieved from:  https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/programs/disability/arc/words-images.html
Marchitelli, Rosa.  “Woman with disability banned from No Frills store after failing to pack groceries fast enough.”., Go Public., CBC., Retrieved from:  https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/disabled-woman-banned-from-no-frills-1.5028056
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