The New Language of Disability: Navigating the Terrain

No one better understands the power and impact of words than writers. Whether they write stories for film, television or newscasts, writers’ words help shape the dialogue and public perception on issues.

This influence and responsibility was the topic of the June 10th panel discussion, “The New Language of Disability: Navigating the Terrain” attended by Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) members who are newswriters, producers and graphics artists at CBS, NBC and WINS. The meeting was facilitated by Christine Bruno, actress and Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts Disability advocate; Simi Linton, disability arts consultant and author of Claiming Disability and My Body Politic; Lawrence Carter-Long, acting executive director of Advocacy, NYC Disability Network, and Anita Hollander, actress and East Coast chair of the National Tri-Union-Actors’ Equity Association Performers with Disabilities Committee.

The roundtable discussion helped news members understand how to better write stories about disabled people and helped the disabled community advocates better understand the constraints of telling stories in today’s news environment. 

“Disability should be part of the story, but not the story,” said Anita Hollander. She cautioned writers to avoid words like brave and courageous since there is nothing brave and courageous about being disabled.

According to Lawrence Carter-Long, the only difference between disabled and non-disabled is “five seconds. Anyone can become disabled in five seconds. It is the largest minority and the only minority any of us can join in a moment.”

The advocates also shared their “Language of Disability: Do’s and Don’ts Top 10 Offenders” list. On the list: the word disabled should always be used as an adjective and not a noun, and don’t use language that is patronizing or makes being disabled sound like an affliction.

The WGAE members and disability community advocates came away from the discussion with a better understanding of each others’ needs and a promise to continue the dialogue.