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How we use language regarding disability at Open Inclusion

Version number: v1.0

Effective date: 18th January 2023

We care how we use language

At Open Inclusion we wish to communicate in an open, considerate, clear and useful manner. Please hold us to this standard. 

We wish to use written language in all our communications that is consistently respectful of everyone. 

To do this, we’ve chosen to use preferred language for disability in accordance with the UN Guidelines (UN Disability Inclusive Language Guidelines). This can be difficult at times, as language regarding disability varies throughout the community and is constantly evolving.

Words matter

It is important to consider appropriate language, when talking to or about people with different lived experiences of disability. This can be difficult as there is not an agreed “correct way” to talk about disability and long-term functional differences. We know that people make different language choices based on their region or community, and even people in the same area with similar needs don’t always agree about how to use language!

At Open we strive to challenge and change social norms regarding disability and dismantle damaging stigmas and stereotypes through the use of language.

Our intent

Behind any words is the intent. Our intent is to make dialogue in speech and writing easier, to support respectful human connection and understanding.

We want to enable more positive and confident communication both across the community of people who identify as disabled and between those who do, and do not identify as disabled. 

Our intent and language usage aligned to it:

  • We always seek to use language that respects, positively recognises and appreciates our differences.
  • In our language usage, we will continually learn from a broad range of people across the disability community. We will actively seek to understand the complexities across the community. 
  • You can help us continue to learn by sharing your preferences and thoughts below. Please tell us if something we have said or written doesn’t resonate with you, or if you particularly like the way we have used language and want us to keep using the same approach. 
  • We will make mistakes. We will correct them as quickly as we can and learn from them.

Different linguistic approaches to disability

Preferred language varies across regions. The two main approaches are:

  1. Person-first language which focuses on the individual first – i.e. person with a disability 
  2. Identity-first language which positions the identity first – i.e. disabled person

For example: 

The UK the disability community tends to prefer identity-first language, since it is a key part of many people’s identity. Disabled people in the UK would be more likely to write or say “I’m a disabled customer who regularly uses your delivery service” or “This would support disabled people’s needs.” 

The Northern American disability community tends to prefer person-first language. It respects the individual first and their access needs second. People with disabilities in North America would be more likely to say, “I am a customer with a disability who regularly uses your delivery service” or “This would support people with disability needs”.  

It’s important to note that not everyone within a region prefers the predominant format used across their geographical location.

“Disability” has more than one meaning

Disability can be a confusing word sometimes as it can mean three different things which can each be appropriate in context:

  • My unmet needs: This meaning comes from the social model of disability, which highlights how a mismatch between a design and a person’s needs can “disable” that person, making them unable to accomplish what they set out to do. Here at Open we often say that “Disability is the point at which your designs have failed to meet the needs of your customers or employees”. An autistic community member describes this social model perspective of disability clearly as “Poorly designed experiences disable people with impairments”. 
  • My identity: This meaning comes from the community or identity model of disability. Many people are proud to identify as part of the disability community and have disability as a key part of their personal identity as they may do their gender, ethnic background or other personal characteristics. 
  • My legal rights: This meaning comes from the Human Rights model of disability. 82 countries ratified the UN’s Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities (CPRD) and each has slightly different laws to protect these rights. Although legal definitions do vary between countries, the UN defined disability in the CPRD as,
    • “Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”

When we use the word “disability,” we will always try to make our meaning clear based on the rest of what we write around the word.

Not all people with access needs identify as disabled.

Many people who are regularly failed by the design of environments, and who have human and legal rights due to their diverse functional needs, do not identify as disabled. We are very conscious of including them in our community, insights and work also. 

Disability as an identity can be chosen by our community as and where it suits them.  Some of those who do not always self-identify as disabled who we welcome to our community may include:

Many in the neurodivergent community recognise their differences but do not identify as disabled. There are also many who are undiagnosed who can be failed by poor design due to the way they receive or process information, but would not have a label to put on their different style of thinking.

Some people may identify as being a part of their specific access need community, such as autistic, hard of hearing or recovering from long COVID, but may not identify as disabled.

Within the deaf community, people who use sign languages often identify as members of a proud linguistic minority. The community of signers sometimes sets itself apart from non-signers by using by spelling “Deaf” with a capital D. Some people in this community identify as disabled and others don’t, since within their linguistic group they have full communication using a vibrant set of sign languages.

Unless we are talking about the Deaf community in this culturally specific context, we tend to use non capitalized spelling of “deaf” so that everyone with lived experience of deafness—whether they sign or not—can feel welcome to engage with our work.

Most older adults incur increasing age-related access needs as our cognitive, sensory and physical capabilities start to deteriorate , something that we may notice starting from about age 50. This happens at very varied rates between individuals. Many who incur distinct access needs in later life describe themselves as “just getting older” rather than having a disability. Some will also identify as disabled. Some of course will have grown older having already identified as disabled from a younger age. 

The older community is just as diverse as any other, so there is a wonderful mix of needs, identities and perspectives.

This is one of the reasons we have a specific community welcoming older people at Open. Whether individuals have few perceivable changes as yet, multiple minor differences due to age, or some specifically disabling access needs, we welcome anyone over 65 to our community.

Communicating with you

When we are communicating directly with or about one person (not in a broader setting like the website or an email that goes to many recipients) we will always try to use the language you prefer and identify with. 

For example, if you prefer to be noted in a report as someone with hearing loss we will use that term to describe you. If you prefer hard of hearing we will use that term. As long as it is clear and accurate we describe you as you prefer. 

Of course the easiest language to use is your name when we are working directly with you!

Always learning and progressing

Disability language is constantly evolving over time, as perceptions, understanding and social norms change. We are committed to keeping up to date with preferred language and remain sensitive to changes.

Help us improve

Please share any opportunities for improvement on the website or in any other communication you have received from us. Also if you have appreciated our use of language please share what you liked and why you liked it.

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