VSA Arts of Rhode Island -  Vision, Artistic, Strength, Promoting the creative power of people with disabilities
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Disability Awareness

Accessibility People First Language


"Accessibility " means more than ramps for wheelchairs. People with all types of disabilities must be ensured equal access to facilities, services and programs.

Access consultants survey Providence Performing Arts Center box office Architectural, communication, programmatic, and policy barriers prevent people from participating fully in society. People with disabilities cannot assume they can use common public places, such as stores, banks, offices, and restaurants, or participate in ordinary activities, such as working, getting an education, visiting friends and attending community events. Most non-disabled people take these freedoms for granted.

VSA arts Rhode Island works with cultural organizations to eliminate physical and programmatic barriers that keep people from fully availing person in wheelchair using access rampsthemselves of the arts. VSA arts RI promotes access by providing direct consultation to cultural and arts organizations ranging from phone consultations to total access site surveys. Fees for service are flexible and are negotiated prior to consultation. All art and cultural organizations are eligible for site surveys.


Accessible Rhode Island will give readers the concise, practical information they need in order to choose leisure time activities that interest them and are accessible to them and their families. Over 400 Rhode Island cultural, artistic, entertainment, sports, educational, recreational and restaurant venues have been reviewed to determine their current state of access and to provide readers with user-friendly listings that are accurate.



To view the on line Accessible Rhode Island Guide , please visit: www.accessiblerhodeisland.org


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People First Language

Language shapes the way those around us speak and act toward one another and conveys the respect we have for others/ The use of appropriate language aboput people with disabilites can be an important tool in building a community that accepts all people.

Appropriate language is both sensitive and accurate. VSA arts promotes the use of "people first" language - language that puts the focus on the individual, rather than on a disability. "People first" language helps us remember that people are unique individuals and that their abilities or disabilities are only part of who they are.

Affirmative Phrase: Person with a disability
Negative phrase: The disabled, handicapped, crippled, suffers from a disability
Affirmative Phrase: Person who is blind, person with visual impairment or has low vision
Negative phrase: The blind
Affirmative Phrase: Person who is Deaf, person who is hard of hearing
Negative phrase: The deaf; deaf and dumb, suffers a hearing loss
Affirmative Phrase: Person who uses a wheelchair
Negative phrase: Confined or restricted to a wheelchair; wheelchair bound
Affirmative Phrase: Person with a physical disability, person with a mobility impairment
Negative phrase: Cripple, lame, handicapped, deformed, physically challenged
Affirmative Phrase: Person with learning disabilites
Negative phrase:

The learning disabled, the mentally defective

Affirmative Phrase: Person with epilepsy, person with a seizure disorder
Negative phrase: Epileptic
Affirmative Phrase: Person who has AIDS, person who is HIV positive
Negative phrase: AIDS victim, "victim" sensationalizes a person's disability. A person is not a victim of an impartial disease or disability
Affirmative Phrase: Person who has multiple sclerosis. Person who had muscular dystrophy, person affected by cerebral palsy.
Negative phrase: Afflicted by MS, stricked by MD, CP victim
Affirmative Phrase: Person who does not speak, is nonverbal
Negative phrase: Dumb, mute
Affirmative Phrase: Person with mental illness
Negative phrase: Crazy, pyscho, or lunatic
Affirmative Phrase: Older person, older adult
Negative phrase: The aged, the elderly
Affirmative Phrase: Person who lives in a nursing home or long-term care facility
Negative phrase: The infirm, the institutionalized, the homebound
Affirmative Phrase: Person without disabilities, non-disabled person
Negative phrase: Normal person - this implies a person with a disability isn't normal; normal is acceptable when applied to statistical norms and averages only

Affirmative Phrase:

Successful, productive
Negative phrase: Courageous - this implies the person is a hero or martyr

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Suggestions to Improve Access and Positive Interactions

The way you portray people in what you write or say may enhance their dignity and promote positive attitudes. While politically correct vocabularies are constantly changing, the following are here to stay:

Never use the word "handicapped"; the word is disability.

Never use a disability as an adjective. It is not a blind actor but an actor who is blind. The focus should be on the person, not the disability.

Avoid labels or "clumping" that refer to people with disabilities as a group - "the disabled," "the handicapped," "the blind" and "the physically challenged."

Never use euphemisms such as "physically challenged," differently abled," and "handi-capable." Many disability groups object to these phrases because they are considered condescending and reinforce the idea that barriers are good or that disabilities exist to build the person's character. The person has a disability and disabilities can be spoken of in an upfront and direct manner.

Never use "special". This separates the individual from the group. You do not require information regarding "special needs of the group" but "needs of the group." No "special" tours, but tours that include people with disabilities.

Refer to people with disabilities as you would anyone else. Do not sensationalize or over-dramatize a disability by using terms such as "afflicted with," "suffers from," "victim of" or "crippled with." Do not "super- humanize" people with disabilities who are successful just because they have a disability. These expressions are considered offensive and inaccurate to people with disabilities.

When referring to people who use wheelchairs, avoid terms such as "wheelchair bound" or "confined to a wheelchair." Wheelchairs do not confine people with disabilities. People use wheelchairs for mobility and they provide freedom of movement to assist individuals in traveling throughout the country.

When writing or speaking about people with disabilities, emphasize abilities rather than limitations, focusing on a person's accomplishments, creative talents, or skills. This does not mean avoiding mention of a person's disability, but doing so in a respectful manner and only when relevant to the situation.


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"Working to create a society where people with disabilities can learn through, participate in, and enjoy the arts."

VSA arts Rhode Island
| 500 Prospect Street | Pawtucket, Rhode Island 02860
Voice & TTY: 401.725.0247 | Fax: 401.725.0397