We all have a role to play in reducing discrimination and challenging negative attitudes by how we portray people with a disability.
Here are some resources which will help you to promote positive attitudes to, and awareness of disability.
Attitudinal change and discrimination resources
We should ensure the language used in any verbal, written and multi-media communication is fair and accurate.
A list of public or free agencies that provide services that address discrimination and human rights is provided below.
Australian Human Rights Commission
The Australian Human Rights Commission has a Disability Rights Unit. It helps individuals and organisations understand their rights and responsibilities. For more information, see Australian Human Rights Commission.
Disability Discrimination Legal Service
The Disability Discrimination Legal Service is a state-wide independent community legal centre. It specialises in disability discrimination legal matters. For more information, see Federation of Community Legal Centres.
Human Rights Law Centre
The Human Rights Law Centre aims to support and enhance the capacity of the legal profession, judiciary, government and community sector. It helps develop Australian law and policy, maintaining consistently with international human rights standards. For more information, see Human Rights Law Centre.
Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission
The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission provides education about equality of opportunity and human rights. It also conducts research and provides legal and policy advice. For more information, see Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.
Villamanta Disability Rights Legal Service
Villamanta is a free state-wide community legal service. It works on disability-related legal issues. It has a focus on the rights of people who have an intellectual disability. For more information, see Villamanta Disability Rights Legal Service.
Disability awareness training
Disability awareness training is designed to provide facts about disability. It should also include a component on positive and inclusive communication. Importantly, the training should provide information about the abilities of people with a disability. It should also contribute to making disability-friendly organisations and workplaces.
What is usually covered?
Disability awareness training typically covers a range of topics. They might include:
- Definitions and types of disabilities, and the likely associated access requirements of people with various disabilities
- Awareness of positive contributions and abilities of people with a disability
- Stereotypes and misconceptions about people with a disability
- Disabling factors in society, including the physical and social environment
- Communication skills that enable people to effectively communicate at work and socialise with people with a disability
- Disability legislation and legal requirements for disability equality.
There are many ways to deliver disability awareness training. Some training offers assimilation exercises providing an opportunity to experience disability. This could include being:
- Placed in a wheelchair
- Asked to communicate without words.
These methods of disability awareness have some useful application in understanding momentarily what having a disability may be like. However, caution should be exercised in using these methods. More often than not, they can trivialise disability. They can also suggest the barriers have more to do with the disability than the social environment or structure.
How do you choose?
Choosing the right disability awareness training consultant or organisation is important.
You should look for:
- A professional training provider with experience delivering disability awareness training to a range of organisations
- A high level of knowledge and experience of disability issues
- A provider that has people with a disability involved in delivering the training
- Training that can be tailored to the needs and context of your organisation
- Methods of training that provide a balance of information and interactive exercises that are delivered in a respectful manner
- References from other organisations that have participated in the training delivered by the organisation or consultant.
It is useful to know if disability awareness training has been successful. You can do this by asking for participant feedback immediately after the training.
A feedback sheet provided to participants immediately after training is a useful tool. It can help get open and honest feedback about the quality and usefulness of the training. Feedback sheets are also useful for assessing whether participant awareness and understanding of disability has changed.
Positive portrayal of people with a disability
We all have a role to play in the positive portrayal of people with a disability. We should ensure the language used in any verbal, written and multi-media communication is fair and accurate. Fortunately, it is not difficult to do. The following guidelines should help you to stay on the right track.
Guidelines to assist positive portrayal
- When referring to a person, ask them how they want to be described. For example, as a person with a disability, a wheelchair athlete, a mother or a student
- When referring to people with a disability, put the person first, not their disability. For example, use the term 'a person with a disability' rather than 'a disabled person'. Similarly, use 'people without disabilities' rather than 'the able-bodied'
- Don’t represent the disability as a tragedy. Avoid using phrases such as 'suffers from', 'afflicted with' or 'the handicapped'. It is better to say that the person has (name the disability)
- Use the phrase 'people who use a wheelchair' rather than 'wheelchair bound'
- Avoid emphasising people with a disability as 'superhuman'. Ensure that the tone of a portrayal is not one of amazement. It should not be a surprise that people with a disability are achieving things in their lives. Avoid using terms such as 'despite' or 'in spite of their disability' when describing accomplishments
- Be mindful of whether elements emphasising disability are relevant to the story in photographs. For example, if the story is about access to facilities, a wheelchair is relevant. But it may not be significant if the story is about a student winning a scholarship.
Reporting it Right guidelines for portraying people with a disability
The Reporting it Right guidelines have been developed to assist journalists and communications professionals to portray people with a disability both sensitively and appropriately.
The guidelines have been developed in consultation with people with a disability, and representatives from the media, communications, disability and health sectors.
Words to avoid
Some words or phrases to avoid include:
- Abnormal and defective
- Afflicted with or suffers from
- The deaf
- The disabled
- Confined to a wheelchair
- Mental patient, mentally handicapped, schizophrenic, insane
- Retarded, slow
Acceptable alternatives include:
- Specifying the disability
- The person has (name the disability)
- A person who is blind
- A person who is deaf. An alternative is the deaf. This refers to people who identify as part of the deaf community and who sign
- People with a disability
- Uses a wheelchair
- Person with (name the condition)
- Person with an intellectual disability
- Person with a disability
- Has a disability.
Reporting it Right guidelines for portraying people with a disability (word).
Reporting it Right guidelines for portraying people with a disability interactive (pdf).
Reporting it Right guidelines for portraying people with a disability checklist (word).