Nepal WASH Blog Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) & Development in Nepal

May 20, 2013

Language affects inclusion

The biggest problems for people with disabilities are typically not related to their particular impairment, but obstacles in their environment and society’s perception of their value. All those responsible for providing water, sanitation and hygiene services have a key role to play in combating discrimination and overcoming attitudinal, institutional and environmental barriers to access.

Using appropriate, context-specific words that respect the dignity of people with disabilities is an essential part of equity and inclusion. If we refer to a disabled person as if there is a problem with them, we are more likely to focus on the person as a problem. This is in line with the ‘individual model’ of disability. The remedy, this model suggests, is to segregate the disabled person from society or cure them. However, if this is the case, the barriers to access will go unnoticed and continue to be an issue.Negative or dominating language will also have a disempowering effect on a disabled person, affecting their self-esteem and causing them to be less-motivated towards improving their own circumstances.

To avoid these problems, here are some points to consider when addressing people with disabilities in water, sanitation and hygiene programmes:

1)     When addressing disabled people, the language used must treat them with respect and dignity – the person should not be labelled with their physical or pschycological condition(s).

2)     While we all have the same rights and the same basic needs, the fact that everyone has different requirements and abilities should be acknowledged – referring to some people as ‘having special needs’ or ‘being differently able’ is damaging.

3)     Assumptions should not be made on behalf of other people – people with disabilities might not feel ‘frail’ or ‘vulnerable’, so assuming them to be weak victims is baseless.

4)     The fact that what is normal to one person may not be normal to others should be considered.

5)     Simple and clear language should be used instead of complicated official language – eg ‘a person has difficulty in walking’ rather than ‘a person has a mobility impairment/sensory motor impairment’.

For more information see:

WaterAid (2013) Terminology guidelines to support  WaterAid’s equity and inclusion framework

World Vision International (no date) Guidelines on inclusion of persons with disabilities

The post is written by Mr Sagar Prasai – sagarDOTprasain@gmailDOTcom

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