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Media Forum

8. The Word "Disabled"

[Leslie Sieleni] I'm Leslie Sieleni, and I am a parent advocate, and I also have a child with Down syndrome.

So my question is, why do reporters frequently use the R word, or use the disabled… the word disabled as a noun in their stories?

We feel that when you do that, it further creates a separation or segregation that we're looking hard to change.

[Robb Leer] Reuben, do you want to address that one?

We're not accusatory here, but just in general there's a lot of [sure] insensitivities by… in stories that are written in which person first language is not always exercised.

[Ruben Rosario – Pioneer Press] Well, I… from personal experience just this weekend, I did a column on Sunday about the Oscars, and I… I wrote down, without thinking too much, "an autistic classmate."

And I got an e-mail last night, from someone who said, "I thoroughly enjoyed your column, but when I read that, it kind of left me sour," because she's a person who has a son with autism.

And all she wanted to do was to clarify the people-first language.

And when she sent the e-mail, I said, "Oh, my God, it just went right by me."

I was the one that made the mistake, but it went through two or three others, and they also didn't see it.

So it's great when you have readers come and kind of set you straight a little bit and have that engagement, you know, where you learn more, or you have it more in the mindset, "Well the next time I write something anywhere near that, I'm going to have it in upper of my mind not to make that same mistake again."

[Shamus O'Meara - OLWK] Reuben strikes on really a practical reality of this.

You know, he could be mindful of people-first language and write his story, but an editor will get a hold of that, maybe on another shift, and maybe they want to byline or a headline, and they only have so much room with that larger font, and so the story will be, you know, "Disabled waiting for services," as opposed to, you know, "People with disabilities."

I… I think that's a significant issue.

You know, years ago when I chaired the Council we… initiated, and I think Colleen had already been doing it for a few years, but we reengaged, I think, the Star Tribune and some others, about people-first language and it's gotten better.

I think… I think generally you'll see in the newspapers and within the verbal media, you know, people-first language, but sometimes you have to be reminded…

[Robb Leer] How about a show of hands of the journalists on this stage, is it something you think about when you're on deadline, you're writing your stories, show of hands, it is something anybody consciously is thinking about?

Okay. So we got good intentions here.

[Kelly Huffman – Fox 9 News Director] We need to do better at realizing that… that things that aren't right in front of our faces, you know, we're human too, and we're on deadlines, and things that aren't right in front of faces, you know, it's up to us to use situations like this to raise that discourse.

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