A Reminder About A Word We Shouldn’t Use And Some More Thoughts On Avoiding Labels

We said this week that a man was “mentally retarded.”

“Retarded” is not a word we use to describe anyone. It’s among the “words that hurt.”

Joe Shapiro, who has done a lot of reporting and thinking about this, suggests phrases such as “intellectual disability” or “developmentally disabled” and that they be used with a “people first” approach. That is, put the person before the condition. Say “a man with an intellectual disability” rather than “a mentally retarded man.”

If you can’t seem to avoid a label, the AP recommends “mentally disabled,” “intellectually disabled” or “developmentally disabled.” But those aren’t great alternatives, as is often the case with labels.

As for labels, reminders are in order:

No. 1: “It is generally best to avoid labeling people, especially with terms that partisans have chosen.” Use “action words” to describe people rather than pinning them with labels.

No. 2: It’s certainly almost always best “to avoid labeling people who have medical conditions.” As we’ve written before, “it’s better to say someone ‘has been diagnosed with schizophrenia’ rather than ‘is a schizophrenic.’ Or, ‘she is being treated for anorexia’ rather than ‘she is an anorexic.’ Or, ‘he is diabetic,’ instead of ‘he is a diabetic.’ ”

No. 3: Pay particularly close attention to the way you refer to people who have gone through traumatic experiences. We’ve previously discussed the language regarding survivors of sexual assault.

This isn’t about political correctness. It’s about respect for those we report about (and “Respect” is one of our core principles) and it’s about accuracy (another core principle).

(“Memmos;” April 22, 2016)

April 22, 2016

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