“There are two things that will help when encountering a disability or chronic health condition and you have no idea what language to use,” she said.
- Sincerely respect and empathize with the person you are talking with
- Ask them how they describe their disability/health condition – which terms do they prefer and is it okay for you to use those term as well?
“People living with disabilities know they have disabilities and appreciate being asked respectfully which labels and terminology is appropriate when interacting with them,” advised Hourston.
Taking the initiative and researching terminology can also be a useful tool for employers.
“Check with disability-specific organizations – by reviewing their websites or calling – in your province or territory to see the terminology used for various disabilities or chronic illnesses,” she suggests.
“It’s also important to understand that many disabilities are invisible,” adds Hourston. “Employees or applicants may live with an invisible disability – like chronic pain, brain injury, mental illness or many others – and choose not to disclose it.”
According to Hourston, guides and glossaries are widely available online but some may be outdated or include errors so HR professionals should ensure they are recent and published by organizations in their geographic area.
“A simpler way is to subscribe to a cross-disability (multi-disability-focused) publication which ensures that readers are aware of current issues and terminology,” advises Hourston.
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