Language Guidelines

Words can open doors, but they can just as easily create barriers or stereotypes. The following language guidelines have been developed for use by anyone writing or speaking about persons with an intellectual disability to ensure that all people are portrayed with individuality and dignity.

Appropriate Terminology

-A person has an intellectual disability, rather than is suffering from, is afflicted with, or is a victim of an intellectual disability. Refer to individuals as persons or people with an intellectual disability. Refer to participants in Special Olympics as Special Olympics athletes rather than Special Olympians or Special Olympic athletes. In no case should the word appear in quotation marks.
-A person uses a wheelchair rather than is confined to or restricted to a wheelchair. Distinguish between adults and children with an intellectual disability.
-Down syndrome has replaced the terms Down's Syndrome and Mongoloid.
-A person is physically challenged or disabled rather than crippled. When writing, refer to persons with a disability in the same styles as persons without a disability: full name on first reference and last name on subsequent references.
-Resist the temptation to refer to an individual with an intellectual disability as "Bill" rather than the journalistically correct "Bill Smith" or "Smith".

Terminology to Avoid 

-Do not use the label kids/children when referring to Special Olympics athletes. Adult athletes are an integral part of the programme.
-Do not use the adjective unfortunate when talking about persons with an intellectual disability. Disabling conditions do not have to be life defining in    a negative way.
-Use the word special with extreme care when talking about persons with an intellectual disability. The term, if used superfluously, can become  clichéd in continuous references to Special Olympics.
-Do not sensationalise the accomplishments of people with an intellectual disability. Respect their achievements as you would any athlete.
-Do not use the word the in front of Special Olympics unless describing a specific Special Olympics event or official. Refer to the Irish Programme as Special Olympics Ireland rather than The Special Olympics.


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