Communicating About People with Disabilities and Diseases in Foreign Languages

Infographic covering world's population living with a physical or mental disability.

As a global business person, you must be extremely careful about the way you create your message, translate it into other languages and target it to different cultures. Above all, you must be certain that your message is culturally sensitive and bias-free in the target language. Making sure your message complies with these requirements demands a trusted 24 Hour translations service or expert translator with knowledge of the culture and languages where your message is received.

Communicating About People with Disabilities and Diseases

Aside from language that is age and sex biased, your message must also avoid any language that may be interpreted as insensitive to people with disabilities. Different languages and cultures have different requirements for identifying people with physical, mental, sensory, or emotional impairments that restricts their ability to function.

A disability is a physical, mental, sensory or emotional condition that reduces a person’s physical or mental condition to the point that it limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities that are necessary to maintain and accomplish the tasks required in normal living. According to the World Bank, 15 percent of the world’s population suffers from some form of disability. Among this group, 2-4 percent experience significant disabilities. The number of people with disabilities greatly increases with age. To accommodate trained workers, more companies throughout the world are finding new ways to adapt to diverse workplaces. Some ways that businesses accommodate people with disabilities is by offering telecommuting, flexible work hours, and special accommodations in the workplace.

Addressing People with Disabilities

When referring to disabled people, follow people-first language to emphasize the individual instead of the disability. People-first language is a type of social etiquette that is used to prevent insensitivity and dehumanizing when referencing people with disabilities.

To use the people-first language technique, name the person first and then the disability. Use this technique instead of using the condition to define the person. Refer to the examples below.

Use this Instead of
He has a physical disability. He is crippled or He is disabled
The child has autism. The child is autistic.
The person has a brain a injury. The person is brain damaged.
Person with AIDS. AIDS victim
Person being treated for cancer. Cancer patient

Companies involved in products and services related to disabilities should become familiar with mandated and customary language used internationally. Today, some countries have specific legal language that defines how people with disabilities should be legally addressed. For example, in the United States, Rosa’s Law mandates replacing the term “mentally retarded” in federal legislation with the term “intellectual disability.”

Because references are constantly changing, it’s important to keep current with the term that the group you address prefers. Generally, it is unacceptable to use any terms that have a negative connotation, such as “suffers from”, “afflicted with”, etc.

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