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The Perils of Politically Correct Language Police when it comes to Disability

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Background; The following Blog for today arises from my review of a talk Honourable David Onley delivered in the last few weeks in Ontario. As part of David Onley’s talk he provided definitions of disability and handicap as these are often used interchangeably in most people’s conversations. My response to his talk is that it is a great idea to differentiate disability and handicap as they are related but different in meaning and implication.  I also warn below how if we take these great explanations and then push this too far with politically correct terms this will turn of the very audience we are trying to reach about accessibility and universal design.  Have a read and let me know your thoughts.  JE Sleeth

This discussion about language as it relates to including the disabled by way of the AODA is an interesting study in how language can be a barrier in and of itself. I like Honourable Onley’s approach to this subject and this is how I present the topic to the audiences OPC speaks to who have no idea about disability, handicap etc.  The way I present the topic which seems to get people having an “ah ha moment” (thank you Oprah) is the following;

Most of the population has an impairment meaning a medical condition such as ADHD, Depression, Rheumatoid Arthritis etc etc.  From this impairment may or may not flow a disability; partial or full; temporary or permanent.  Not all Dis abilities are a Handicap unless psychological, human resources, built environment, technology, biases, laws etc create barriers for those with a dis ability.  In this case the customer, client, employee become handicapped.  Although this explanation is routed in the WHO’s  (World Health Organization’s) medical model I still use this as I know from my 25 years in this field that THIS is the language the lay person truly gets and can move onwards from. 

One word of advice as the many disabled groups start to push for their own politically correct language to be used as it relates to the AODA is the following and borrowed from other “minority” group’s learnings (Read Bending Over Backwards for example); do not become so hung up on the layperson & non “disabled or handicapped” audience using the absolutely correct terms for this area. The political correctedness arguments will fracture the communitys’ ability to move forward with the AODA and will also turn off the very audience we are all striving to reach.

Onwards we all move here in Ontario with the singular goal of creating universally accessible workplaces, and all other public spaces.  JE Sleeth Optimal Performance Consultants Inc Since 1991

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