There are plenty of reasons to use inclusive language when speaking and referring to disability communities. By doing so, a person or business creates an atmosphere of empathy, understanding, and respect for the varying identities and abilities of customers. Being paralyzed below my shoulders and a power wheelchair user, it means a lot when I experience inclusive language in action. Who doesn’t like a welcoming environment or a business that shows they care and get it?
While it’s an ethical and moral imperative to employ inclusive language in everyday conversations, it’s also important to adopt this type of verbiage when appealing to and connecting with consumers from a business perspective. The type of business partnership that can be created with the disability communities can be beneficial to all parties involved; businesses have an opportunity to increase revenue and build a positive reputation, and we as consumers with disabilities can feel included in the messaging of the products and services we want and need.
Before I dive in, let’s begin with understanding the size and power of the communities, which will help you embrace the proper language you should be prioritizing publicly to make strong connections with the disability communities.
Acknowledge the size of the disability community
Did you know that over 1 billion people, roughly 15% of the world’s population, live with some form of disability? Of that population, 3.2% live with some form of blindness or visual impairment, 6% experience deafness and hearing loss, 2.6% have a cognitive disability, and 1% use a wheelchair daily. However, due to rising health conditions and population aging, the percentage of those living with a disability is steadily increasing. This means that, realistically, we’re all likely to experience some form or characteristic of a disability at some point in our life.
Realize their immense market power
The disability communities, as a whole, have a global disposable income of over $1.9 trillion, and we’ve proven to be more loyal, spend more per trip, and shop more frequently than any other specific, consumer demographic out there. From a business owner’s perspective, you can see how our untapped market could potentially increase your business’s incoming revenue, or at the very least, open a new channel of revenue.
When you create a business partnership with consumers with disabilities, you’re always developing a relationship with the people around us, as well; our friends and family members (3.3 billion potential customers) have a global disposable income of over $10.71 trillion themselves and are influenced by the connection they share with us. Because of this connection and their appreciation of inclusivity, 75% of both people with disabilities and our families report leaving businesses due to poor disability awareness. We’re valuable consumers you don’t want to lose.
So, how do you appeal to and connect with consumers with disabilities (and our families and friends?) Adopt inclusive language, of course!
Understand how to appeal to the disability communities with inclusive language
First and foremost, don’t speak of people with disabilities as victims or heroes. And, as a second rule of thumb, never refer to people without disabilities as healthy or normal. Anyone, regardless of ability, has the right to be addressed as the individual that they are and as a human with their own unique life experiences. To make it a bit simpler, here’s a sample list of what you shouldn’t say vs. the inclusive language you definitely should be used in business:
Instead of “suffering from” say “living with (a disability or diagnosis)”
Instead of “able-bodied" say “person/people without disabilities”
Instead of “the disabled/differently-abled/special needs” say “person/people with disability/disabilities”
Instead of “wheelchair-bound/confined to a wheelchair” say “uses a wheelchair, is a wheelchair user”
Instead of “is handicapped” say “has a disability”
Instead of “visually impaired” say “a person who is blind/legally blind/has low vision”
Instead of “hearing impaired” say “Deaf (the community), deaf (audiological status), partial hearing loss, or hard of hearing”
Instead of “dumb/slow learner/retarded” say “has a learning/intellectual disability”
Instead of “physically challenged/person with physical limitations” say “person with a physical/mobility disability”
Instead of “lame, crippled, cripple (to describe objects/ activities)” say “a problematic webinar, a malware-infected system”
*For a continued list of inclusive terms and the definitions of inclusive language concepts: click here.
Inclusive language is a win-win situation
If you want to attract the disability communities and conduct business transactions with us, inclusive language is the way to do so. With inclusive messaging your business will gain a reputation for being Diversity Equity Inclusion (DEI) friendly, and that potential new revenue stream from reaching a previously neglected and overlooked market is tempting, too. Let’s not forget, though, that inclusive language is significant and mandatory when it comes to the respect and meaningful relationships you make with us in the disability communities. That’s the bottom line! If you have read to the end that says a lot. Thank you for being on this journey with us!