Yangyel Lhaden

Almost four years after the education ministry’s special education need (SEN) division launched a quick guide to inclusive language, many people are not aware of the terminologies used for persons with disabilities.

This, according to sources, was because the terminologies kept changing.

Officials working for persons with disabilities also agreed.

The executive director of Disabled People’s Organisation (DPO), Sonam Gyamtsho, said terminologies evolved from disabled people to differently-abled and now it is persons with disabilities, which is derived from the United Nations convention on the right of persons with disabilities.

He said that people were confused and not aware of the evolving terminologies. “There’s a lack of awareness and advocacy programmes.”

The SEN guideline was developed to standardise language, as schools in the country became more inclusive with a programme for persons with disabilities.

The guideline states that the need to standardise the language was because children learnt from behaviorism and mimicked what others did. “If positive language was used to refer children with disabilities, it could create greater understanding and awareness about that person among children.”

It also states that people’s first language puts the person first and the label second. “The various disabilities are labels of a person as it’s not a defining feature but part of a person.”

It also states that it is inappropriate to use the label first, such as, disabled person or blind person as their label should follow their name such as persons with disabilities, person with blindness, or person on wheelchair.

The guideline states using positive language was important as negative words such as suffers from, afflicted by, and burden makes an assumption that the person is living a negative experience.

Negative words such as cripple, handicapped, wheelchair bound and suffers from should be avoided. “For cripple, one can use person with physical disability as it removes the negative connotation cripple. Similarly, for wheelchair bound as person on wheelchair, and ‘suffers from’ as a person followed by their disability,” it states.

The guideline states to avoid misleading comparison, while grouping one as normal other ultimately becomes abnormal, comparative language should be used. “Instead of saying non-disabled, normal, typical use people without disabilities and instead of regular class or normal class/school refer as general class or school.”

A capital “D” is used for Deaf person knowing Bhutanese Sign Language as they form part of Deaf community in Bhutan likewise small d for deaf refers to person with physical condition and not part of Deaf community.

While referring to infrastructure, disabled-friendly or differently-abled friendly should be avoided as it reflects a charity model.  Instead accessible is used which means it can be accessed by all people including those with disabilities.

It states that the commonly shared term “differently abled” is not directly offensive but less preferred because it is not considered inclusive language. “Differently abled means every person can be differently-abled such as some speak many languages or some are great at sports.”

It also states the word “differently-abled” was avoided as it institutes fear in mentioning disability which presented it was taboo or something forbidden but it is fine to use the word disability.

The quick guide states, “Since we are using inclusive language to build a more inclusive society, it is important that we don’t spread fear about disability.”