If you are looking for more information on the disability movement in Canada, would like to interview a staff on a relevant news issue, feature a story about intellectual disability, or other media inquiries, please contact Senior Communications Officer, Marc Muschler, at mmuschler@cacl.ca or 416-661-9611 ext. 232.

Guidelines on Reporting on a Person with an Intellectual Disability

Here are some general guidelines to keep in mind when interviewing or reporting on a person with an intellectual disability:
  • It is not always relevant to the article to mention that a person has a disability. If and when it is, identify the person first and then the disability and move on (i.e. use person-centered language).
  • Emphasize the ability rather than the limitation. Say that a person has a disability rather than he or she is disabled. People are not defined by their disability.
  • Avoid using emotional words like “suffers”, “afflicted”, or “victim”, speaking of disability as “a disease”, or families who are “burdened.” People with an intellectual disability do not consider themselves to be victims who are sick or suffering.
  • Avoid depicting people with a disability who succeed as “extraordinary”. Overemphasizing a person’s achievements may suggest that original expectations of people with disabilities are low.
  • Portray the person as he or she is. For example, a person with an intellectual disability may be a student, employee, parent or family member, artist, or an athlete.
  • People with an intellectual disability do not want to be recipients of pity or charity.
  • Avoid comparing the actual age of a person with an intellectual disability to their “mental age”. This is discriminatory language. 
  • When interviewing a person with an intellectual disability who does not use words to speak (sometimes described as “non-verbal”), always speak directly to them, rather than to their support person or aide.
  • Speak in a normal tone of voice and do not use language that is condescending.
  • A person with an intellectual disability may need longer or sufficient time to respond to your question.
  • If a person asks you to repeat the question, consider using plain language.
  • Ask the person to repeat themselves if you do not understand them.
  • Do not assume that a person who has an intellectual disability also has a physical disability.

The International Labour Organization’s brochure “Reporting on disability: Guidelines for the media” is an excellent tool for professional communicators to promote inclusiveness in writing and the fair and accurate portrayal of people with disabilities.

Plain Language

A communication is in plain language if its wording, structure, and design are so clear that the intended audience can easily find what they need, understand what they find, and use that information. For guidelines in producing plain language documents and resources, Inclusion International’s global resource can be found here.

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