Media Style Guide

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Media Style Guide

© Rehabilitation Council of India, New Delhi

Any part of this publication may be reproduced with prior written permission and proper acknowledgement.

Disclaimer :
All responsibility for contents of this book goes to the authors. The RCI accepts no responsibility or liability for any consequences of any inaccurate or misleading information.


Mr. P.J. Mathew Martin, AYJNIHH, Mumbai
Mr. K. Kannan, New Delhi

Overall Guidance

Major H.P.S. Ahluwalia, Chairman, RCI
Dr. J.P. Singh, Member Secretary, RCI

Editorial Assistance

Mr. S. P. Parasher
Mr. S. K. Ghuna

Published in 2005

Printed at :
Anubhav Printographic,
WZ-1045/2, Nangal Raya
New Delhi-110046
Phone : 55906979


The Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, Govt. of India, has taken several new initiatives for providing comprehensive rehabilitation services to Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) throughout the country. The criterion of awareness regarding the welfare services through various programmes is one of the important steps in this direction, with a focus in esuring provision of comprehensive rehabilitation services at the national level.

Media plays an important role in creating awareness about the problems and potentials of persons with disabilities. However, quite often the reports on persons with disability are not accurate, fair and diverse. Many times the reports use wrong words/styles to depict disability or persons with disability. Hence an attempt is made in this book to give to the students of communication and journalism, guidelines to make disability communication and disability rehabilitation reports more accurate and fair considering the complexity of disability issues and the range of perspectives available for them.

Many of us unknowingly carry prejudices and misconceptions about people with disabilities. Sometimes, these are magnified in the media. This book is developed so as to put the mass media professionals in touch with credible sources on the disabled and for reporting related issues.

This book is also an attempt to depict the significance of use of various terms related to disability rehabilitation. This book provides general guiding principles in the use of language in media for creating awareness on issues related to disability rehabilitation, whether it is in a community or on a national or international basis. It leaves sufficient scope for improvement and innovation of new strategies.

The book also provides adequate guidelines and tips to professionals and students of mass media profession while writing feature articles, profiles and stories for enhancing the rehabilitation of persons with disabilities.

April, 2005 Major H.P.S. Ahluwalia, F.R.G.S.

Chairman, R.C.I.
Chapter 1


THE training programme in the field of Disability Communication for communication professionals, trainee journalists & media persons has elicited lots of interest across the country, by media professionals. There are over 200 such Mass Communication/Media Training Institutes in the country.

It is often seen that `persons with diabilities' and `disability communication' news have been given lowest importance by media/communication professionals & media houses. Despite efforts by Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, Govt. of India, National Institutes and Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI), to lay stress on spreading awarenesss on disability rehabilitation and information about programmes for persons with diabilities. Many persons with disabilities do not avail themselves of their benefits due to ignorance and it is only through proper use of media and communication channels that this ignorance could be erased.

Quite often the reports on persons with disabilities are not accurate, fair and diverse. Many times the reports use wrong words/styles to depict disability/persons with disability. Hence an attempt is made in this book to guide professionals and students of journalism/communication to make disability communication, more accurate and fair considering the complexity of disability issues and the range of perspectives available on them.

For proper integration/mainstreaming of persons with disabilities in society/community, and in economic activities, it is essential that disability communication is given stress by media. Every year over 2,000 communication/mass media professionals pass out from various training institutes in the country, without any exposure to disability communication. The multiplier effects of modern communication technology have ensured that messages can be repeated and magnified relentlessly.

In this context, media has become the most powerful tool in the communication process. It has a prominent role in building up of public opinion. With the globalization process accelerating, there has been an increasing appetite among the people for information, which only the media and media professionals can provide. Globalization process is beginning to degenerate into localization in terms of linguistic barriers in communication. Same effect persists in the field of disability communication.

While organizations working for the disabled or otherwise, need to have proper understanding of the media, how they work and their requirements, their structure, decision-making at different levels and the role and functions of different individuals in a media organization, the mass media needs to be sensitized on the various issues related to disability.

However it is envisaged that only through an open, diverse and inclusive dialogue we will enable the disability communication to be more accurate and precise for empowering the persons with disability.

Chapter 2

Appropriate Terminology
  1. Able-bodied : Refers to a person who does not have disability. "Non-disabled" or "does not have a disability" is preferred. "Able-bodied" comes from a "physical ability" perspective, excluding the majority of people with disabilities. It also implies people with disabilities do not have "able" bodies. The term "non-disabled" or the phrase "does not have a disability" is the most neutral.
  2. ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder): ADHD is a syndrome of learning and behavioural problems that is not caused by any serious underlying physical or mental disorder and is characterized especially by difficulty in sustaining attention, impulsive behaviour, and usually by excessive activity. Do not say hyperactive. Say person with ADHD.
  3. Afflicted with : These terms come with the assumption that a person with a disability is in fact suffering or living a reduced quality of life. Instead, use neutral language when describing a person who has a disability. Not every person with a disability "suffers", is a "victim" or "stricken". Instead simply state the facts about the nature of the person's disability. For example, "He has muscular dystrophy" or use term "acquired _ disability" to describe the affliction causing disability.
  4. ASL : American Sign Language, a language used by deaf community of America to communicate.
  5. Assistance animal (also see "guide dog", "seeing eye dog", "service animal)": Currently there is no uniform terminology. Animals, mostly dogs, can provide services to a person with a disability, including blind but not limited to fetching objects for those who use wheelchairs, providing visual clues for those who are blind or alerting deaf individuals to household audio clues.
  6. Audiologist: This term should be used for a para medical professional who diagnosis hearing ability of a person with hearing disability. In India they are not considered doctors. Hence do not address or term them as doctors as they are not medical professional.
  7. Autism is a mental disorder originating in infancy that is characterized by absorption in self-centered subjective mental activity, especially when accompanied by marked withdrawal from reality, inability to interact socially, repetitive behaviour, and language dysfunction. Do not say autistic. Say person with autism.
  8. Barrier free environment : A phrase to depict the accessibility for the persons with disabilities without additional assistance, a place using a ramp, lift, railings, inductionloop system, power counters and any other arrangement made to a place/a vehicle or office to make it user friendly to the persons with disabilities.
  9. Birth defect: Avoid the term "defect" or "defective" when describing a disability because it indicates that the person is somehow incomplete or sub-par. Instead use terms that simply state the facts of the nature of the disability (when appropriate) such as : "congenital disability", "born with a disability", or "disability since birth".
  10. Blind: Use as an adjective, not as a noun. Describes a person with complete loss of sight. Many people who are legally blind have some vision, which they sometimes use in combination with canes, dogs and other low vision aids. For them, the label "blind" is inaccurate. For others, use terms such as "visually impaired", person with "low vision" or "partially sighted". Currently there is no uniform terminology. It is best to ask the person which term to use. The word "blind" is used in colloquial English to imply "ignorance" or "stupidity", i.e., "turned a blind-eye", or "blind to the fact", "What? Are you blind?" "Blind" is a short and punchy word, which makes it good for headlines and teases, but it is inaccurate for non-disability issues and misleads when applied to people with low vision. Using "Blind" instead of "ignorant" (or other adjectives) is inaccurate and perpetuates stereotypes that people, who are blind, are ignorant. This stereotype can lead to negative assumptions when a person applies for a job or seeks to have equal access to society. It is best not to use colloquial English and instead choose more accurate words.
  11. Brain injury : Brain injury describes a condition where there is long-term or temporary disruption in brain function resulting from injury to the brain. Difficulties with cognitive, physical, emotional, and/or social functioning may occur. Do not say brain damaged. Say person with a brain injury, woman who has sustained brain injury, or boy with an acquired brain injury.
  12. Chronic fatigue syndrome: Chronic fatigue syndrome also called chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome, describes a serious chronic condition in which individuals experience six or more months of fatigue accompanied by physical and cognitive symptoms. Do not use terms such as Yuppie Flu, malingering, and hypochondriasis as they are pejorative, imply personality disorders, and are not scientifically supportable. Say person with chronic fatigue syndrome.
  13. Cleft lip: Cleft lip describes a specific congenital disability involving the lip and gum. The term hare lip is anatomically incorrect and stigmatizing. Say person who has a cleft lip or a cleft palate. Congenital disability describes a disability that has existed since birth but is not necessarily hereditary. The terms birth defect and deformity are inappropriate. Say person with a congenital disability.
  14. Cochlear implant: Latest technology used for inserting hair-thin electrode to the cochlea of the ear through an operation. Used mostly for those persons with congenital hearing disability to enable them to use their inner ear capabilities.
  15. Cerebral Palsy (CP): Do not refer to a person with CP as "cerebral palsy victim", "cerebral palsied", "spastic" or as "a CP" because these terms define the individual only in terms of their physicality. As when describing people with any kind of disability, the term "CP" can be used to describe the disability but not a person. Do not mention the disability unless it is essential to the story. Phrases such as "she/he has cerebral palsy" are best.
  16. Confined to a wheelchair: ("Wheelchair") : Do not use "confined to a wheelchair" or "wheelchair-bound". Instead, use "person who uses a wheelchair" or "wheelchair-user". Unless mentioning the wheelchair is essential to the story, leave it out. Avoid using phrases like "wheelchair-rider", "vertically challenged" and similar terms.
  17. Congenital disability: A person who has a "congenital disability" has a disability since birth. Avoid the term "defect", "birth defect" or "defective" when describing a disability. Use "has a congenital disability", "a disability since birth" or "born with a disability". Only mention the disability when it is pertinent to the story.
  18. Cripple, crippled, crippled with: Do not use these terms to describe a person with disability. Much like the way some racial derogatory terms are used, some people with disabilities have taken "cripple" shortened it to "crip" which is used as an "insider"term to refer to other people with disabilities. Some people who use "crip" identify with being a part of "disability culture". However, other people with disabilities find "cripple" in any form, offensive. The basic guideline, then, is to avoid using it altogether.
  19. Deaf: Capitalize when a person identifies as culturally deaf. Use as an adjective, not as a noun. Describe a person with profound or complete hearing loss. Many people who are "hard of hearing" or "hearing impaired" have a mild to moderate hearing loss that may or may not be corrected with amplification. "Hearing impaired", "hard of hearing", "hearing loss", "partial hearing loss", and "partially deaf" are some terms used by some individuals to indicate varying degrees of hearing loss from mild to profound. Currently there is no uniform terminology. It is best to ask the person which term to use. Use: "woman/man who is deaf", "boy who is hard of hearing", "individuals with hearing losses", "people who are deaf or hard of hearing". Avoid "deaf and dumb" and "the deaf-mute".
  20. Deaf-dumb, deaf-mute: Avoid these terms. These terms refer to a person who does not hear and does not use speech to communicate. "Dumb" originally referred to a person who could not speak, and implied the person was incapable of expressing him or herself. People who are deaf or do not use speech are capable of expressing themselves, but in a different language like Indian Sign Language (ISL), and American Sign Language (ASL). A person who does not voice may be able to hear.
  21. Defect, defective: Avoid using this term to describe a disability. An offensive example is "she suffers from a defective leg". Instead use "she has a disability" or "she is a person with orthopaedic disability".
  22. Deformed: Best is to name the disability.
  23. Developmental disabilities: This phrase was generated from the Developmental Disabilities Act. It is an umbrella term that is often generalised to mean more than the federal and/or state legal definitions. The legal definitions can vary from state to state. The term generally is used to refer to individuals whose disability affect development _ acquired at birth or childhood. One of the definition is "Developmental disabilities are chronic mental and/or physical disabilities which manifest before the age of 18 and result in functional limitations in at least three of the following areas of life activity: self-care, language, learning, mobility, self-direction, independent living and economic self-sufficiency. Individuals with developmental disabilities require lifelong or extended individual supports. Conditions include, but not limited to autism, mental retardation, epilepsy and cerebral palsy."
  24. Disability, disabled: General term used for functional limitations that limits one or more of the major life activities such as walking, lifting, learning, breathing, etc. Different Acts/Laws define disability differently in different countries. Persons with Disabilities, Act, 1995 defines Disability clearly. When describing an individual do not include their disability unless it is clearly pertinent to the story. If it is, it is best to use people first language, for example: "The writer, who has a disability…" as opposed to "The disabled writer ".
  25. Disfigurement: Disfigurement refers to physical changes caused by burns, trauma, disease, or congenital conditions. Do not say burn victim. Say burn survivor, or adult with burns, or child with burns.
  26. Down syndrome: Not "Down's" for the genetic, chromosomal disorder first reported in 1866 by Dr. J. Langdon Down. Preferred language is "person with down syndrome" not "Down syndrome child". Do not use "mongoloid". A syndrome is not a disease or illness. It is not contagious.
  27. Dumb: This term is originally referred to a person who could not speak, and implied the person was incapable of expressing himself or herself. For example he or she may use the writing or a different language like Indian Sign Language. A peron who does not voice may be able to hear. Hence all the deaf persons are not dumb. "Dumb" is also a derogatory term to refer to someone with perceived low intellectual ability.
  28. Dwarf: Avoid the term unless a quote or in a medical diagnosis. This is a medical term applied to people who are of "short stature". Avoid medical model terms when describing the experience of living with a disability. Instead use: "short stature" or "little person/people". Best is to ask the person which term to use.
  29. Ear mould: An acrylitic material device to enable the amplified sound to reach the ear without any leakage of sound. It helps the user of hearing aid to fit the receiver into the ear properly.
  30. Fit: This term refers to a seizure or a person having a seizure. It is more accurate to use the term "seizure". "Fit" or "throwing a fit" in colloquial English often implies a person is acting "spoiled" or "out of control" because they are not getting what they want.
  31. Guide dogs: Currently there is no uniform terminology. Animals, mostly dogs, can provide services to a person with a disability, including but not limited to, fetching objects for those who use wheelchairs, providing visual clues for those who are blind or alerting deaf individuals to household audio clues.
  32. Handicap/handicapped: Handicap/handicapped should be avoided in describing a disablity. It can be used when citing laws and situations in courts.
  33. Hard of hearing, hearing impaired: Many people who are "hard of hearing" or "hearing impaired" have a mild to moderate hearing loss that may or may not be corrected with amplification. "Hearing impaired", "hard of hearing", "hearing loss", "partial hearing loss" and "partially deaf" are some terms used by some individuals to indicate varying degrees of hearing loss from mild to profound. Currently there is no uniform terminology. It is best to ask the person which term to use.
  34. Hearing aid: An electronic device used as an amplification device by persons with hearing disability.
  35. Hearing aid user: A person who uses hearing aid. There are various types of hearing aids such as Behind the ear, Body level, in the ear and in the canal.
  36. HIV/AIDS: Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome is an infectious disease resulting in the loss of the body's immune system to ward off infections. The disease is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). A positive test for HIV can occur without symptoms of the illnesses that usually develop up to 10 years later including tuberculosis, recurring pneumonia, cancer, recurrent vaginal yeast infections, intestinal ailments, chronic weakness and fever, and profound weight loss. Don't say AIDS victim. Say people living with HIV, people with AIDS or living with AIDS.
  37. Impairment: The term `impairment' refers to individually based, functional limitation _ whether physical, intellectual, sensory or hidden.
  38. Infantile paralysis: This disability is more commonly known as "polio". It is more accurate to use. "He has polio since childhood" or "she contracted polio as an adult from a vaccine". Rather than "He suffers from polio".
  39. Injuries: Injuries are "sustained" or "received" not "suffered".
  40. Invalid: This term should not be used to describe a person with a disability. The word implies that a person has no abilities and no sense of self, whereas for the vast majority of persons with disabilities, this is rarely a case.
  41. Indian Sign Language (ISL) : It is the mother tongue of the Indian Deaf community. A language used by the deaf community in India for communication. Presently, Ali Yavar Jung National Institute for the Hearing Handicapped, Mumbai has initiated steps to envisage development and research in ISL.
  42. Indian Signed System (ISS) : It is different from Indian Sign Language (ISL). In Indian Signed System, word to word signs are used for interpretation. But the deaf community in India finds it difficult to understand the interpretation using ISS.
  43. Lame: Avoid using when referencing a person. Some people with and without disabilities are also offended when the term "lame" is used in colloquial English like "lame excuse".
  44. Learning disability: Learning disability describes a permanent condition that affects the way individuals take in, retain, and express information. Some groups prefer specific learning disability, because it emphasizes that only certain learning processes are affected. Do not say slow learner, retarded, etc., which are different from learning disabilities. Say person with a learning disability.
  45. Loon, loony, loony bin: Taken from the term "lunatic", an derivative of that word referring an individual seeking therapy, assisted living situations, or mental health fitness is considered a derogatory term.
  46. Low vision: Describes a person with some vision which they sometimes use in combination with canes, dogs and other low vision aids. Using the term "blind" for someone with "low vision" or who is "partially sighted" is inaccurate. Currently, there is no uniform terminology. It is best to ask the person which term to use.
  47. Mental disability: The Federal Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) lists four categories under mental disability, psychiatric disability, retardation, learning disability, or cognitive impairment as acceptable terms. Always precede these terms with, "person with...".
  48. Mental retardation: Mental retardation refers to substantial intellectual delay that requires environmental or personal supports to live independently. Mental retardation is manifested by below-average intellectual functioning in two or more life areas (work, education, daily living, etc.) and is present before the age of 18. Don't use subnormal or the retarded. Say people with mental retardation.
  49. Midget:Midget derogatory term for people of "short stature" or "little people/person".
  50. Mute: Mute a derogatory term referring to a person who physically cannot speak. Avoid the use of it. It also implies that people who do not use speech are unable to express themselves, which is not true.
  51. Multiple chemical sensitivities: Multiple chemical sensitivities describes a chronic condition characterized by neurological impairment, muscle pain and weakness, respiratory problems and gastrointestinal complaints triggered by contact with low level exposure to common substances including pesticides, new carpet, particleboard, cleaning agents, and perfumes. Some people react to foods and electromagnetic fields. Do not use psychosomatic or 20th Century disease. Say person with chemical intolerance or environmental illness.
  52. Non-disabled (also see "able-bodied") : Non-disabled refers to a person who does not have a disability. Can also use "does not have a disability".
  53. Nuts: Derogatory term referring to someone with a psychiatric disability.
  54. Paraplegic: Sometimes people with paraplegia (or who are paraplegic) will refer to themselves as a "para". If so, use in quotes. Otherwise, spell out.
  55. Partially sighted (also see "blind") : Describes a person with some vision which they sometimes use in combination with canes, dogs and other low vision aids. Using the term "blind" for someone with "low vision" or who is "partially sighted" is inaccurate. Currently, there is no uniformity.
  56. Physically-challenged: Used to depict persons with disability who cannot access the facilities offered to physically-able persons. It is commonly accepted phrase to address the disabled persons.
  57. Post-polio syndrome: Post-polio syndrome is a condition that affects persons who have had poliomyelitis (polio) long after recovery from the disease and that is characterized by muscle weakness, joint and muscle pain, and fatigue. Do not use polio victim. Say person with post-polio syndrome.
  58. Psychiatric disability: Psychotic, schizophrenic, neurotic, and other specific terms should be used only in proper clinical context and should be checked carefully for medical and legal accuracy. Words such as crazy, maniac, lunatic, demented, schizo, and psycho are offensive and should never be applied to people with mental health problems or anyone else. Acceptable terms are people with psychiatric disabilities, psychiatric illnesses, emotional disorders, or mental disorders.
  59. Quadriplegia: Sometimes people with quadriplegia refer to themselves as "quads". If so, use in quotes. Otherwise, spell out terminology. It is best to ask the person which term to use.
  60. Rehabilitation: Commonly used for rehabilitation of displaced population due to flood, drought, or any other calamities. However according to World Health Organization, Rehabilitation, "as applied to `disability' is the combined and coordinated use of medical, social, education and vocational measures for training or retraining the individual to the highest possible level of functioning ability". Commonly used phrase is `rehabilitation of persons with disability' or `disability rehabilitation'.
  61. Rehabilitation Council of India: RCI an apex, national level organization and statutory body established by Govt. of India, in 1992. Like any other council for professionals, Rehabilitation professionals performd various other functions to develop manpower for rehabilitation of persons with disability.
  62. Seeing Eye Dog: Seeing Eye Dog is a registered trademark with the Seeing Eye in Morristown, NJ. Animals, mostly dogs, can provide services to a person with a disability, including, but not limited to, fetching objects for those who use wheelchairs, providing visual clues for those who are blind or alerting deaf individuals to household audio clues. Currently there is no uniform terminology.
  63. Seizure: Seizure describes an involuntary muscular contraction, a brief impairment or loss of consciousness, etc., resulting from a neurological condition such as epilepsy or from an acquired brain injury. The term convulsion should be used only for seizures involving contraction of the entire body. Do not use fit, spastic, or attacks. Rather than epileptic, say girl with epilepsy or boy with a seizure disorder.
  64. Service animal: Animals, mostly dogs, can provide services to a person with a disability, including, but not limited to, fetching objects for those who use wheelchairs, providing visual clues for those who are blind or alerting deaf individuals to household audio clues. Currently there is no uniform terminology. Seeing Eye Dog is a registered trademark with the Seeing Eye in Morristown, NJ.
  65. Small/short stature: Small/short stature describes people under 4'10" tall. Do not refer to these individuals as dwarfs or midgets, which implies a less than full adult status in society. Dwarfism is an accepted medical term, but it should not be used as general terminology. Say persons of small (or short) stature. Some groups prefer the term "little people".
  66. Spastic: It is not appropriate for describing a person with cerebral palsy or other disabilities. Muscles, not people, are spastic. Referring to someone as a "spaz"is equally inappropriate.
  67. Speech disorder: Speech disorder is a condition in which a person has limited or difficult speech patterns. Do not use mute or dumb. Use child who has a speech disorder. For a person with no verbal speech capability, say woman without speech.
  68. Speech Pathologist / Therapist: These terms should be used for a para medical-professional who diagnoses speech problems of a person and provides therapy services to the persons with speech disability. In India, they are not considered Doctors. Hence do not address or term them as doctors as they are not medical professionals.
  69. Spinal cord injury: Spinal cord injury describes a condition in which there has been permanent damage to the spinal cord. Quadriplegia denotes substantial or significant loss of function in all four extremities. Paraplegia refers to substantial or significant loss of function in the lower part of the body only. Say man with paraplegia, woman who is paralyzed, or person with a spinal cord injury.
  70. Stroke: Stroke is caused by interruption of blood to the brain. Hemiplegia (paralysis on one side) may result. Stroke survivor or person who has had a stroke is preferred over stroke victim.
  71. Substance dependence: Substance dependence refers to patterns of substance use that result in significant impairment in at least three life areas (family, employment, health, etc.) over any 12-month period. Substance dependence is generally characterized by impaired control over consumption, preoccupation with the substance, and denial of impairment in life areas. Substance dependence may include physiological dependence/tolerance withdrawal. Although such terms as alcoholic and addict are medically acceptable, they may be derogatory to some individuals. Acceptable terms are people who are substance dependent or people who are alcohol dependent. An individual who has a history of dependence on alcohol and/or other drugs and is no longer using alcohol or drugs may identify themselves as recovering or as a person in recovery.
  72. Temporarily able-bodied (TAB): A term used to the notion that sooner or later, everyone will acquire some kind of disability. This is not a uniformly accepted term.
  73. Uses a wheelchair: People use wheelchairs for independent mobility. Some people prefer "person who uses a wheelchair" or "wheelchair-user". Avoid using "confined to a wheelchair", "wheelchair bound", "wheelchair rider" and "vertically challenged".
  74. Vertically challenged: Used in colloquial English to refer to a person who is "not tall enough". Applying this term to a person with a disability such as a person of short stature or someone who uses a wheelchair is inaccurate.
  75. Veg, vegetable, vegetative state: These terms are inaccurate when used to describe people without physical, sensory or cognitive functioning. Instead, use precise medical terminology or general terms such as "comatose" or "non-responsive".
  76. Victim, victim of: These terms come with the assumption that a person with a disability is in fact a victim, suffering or living a reduced quality of life. Instead, use neutral language when describing a person who has a disability. Not every person with a disability "suffers", is a "victim" or "stricken". Instead simply state the facts about the nature of the person's disability. For example, "he has muscular dystrophy".
  77. Visual impairment: Describes a person with some vision which they sometimes use in combination with canes, dogs and other vision aids. Using the term "blind" for someone with "low vision" or who is "partially sighted" is inaccurate. Currently, there is no uniform terminology. It is best to ask the person which term to use.
  78. Wheelchair: Unless mentioning a wheelchair is essential to the story, leave it out. People use wheelchairs for independent mobility. Do not use "confined to a wheelchair" or "wheelchair bound". Instead use "person who uses a wheelchair" or "wheelchair user". Avoid phrases like "wheelchair rider" and "vertically challenged". Non-users often associate wheelchairs with illness and aging, and may meet them with fear. Keep in mind that a wheelchair can be a source of freedom and independence. Describing someone as being "confined to a wheelchair" is akin to making a judgement about them. The definition of "confined"is a relative term; people who need to use a wheelchair and do not have one might be confined to bed, home, etc.
  79. Wheelchair-bound: A person is not bound to a wheelchair; a wheelchair enables a person to be mobile. Use wheelchair-user or uses a wheelchair.
Chapter 3

Portrayal Issues Please consider the following when writing about people with disabilities:

Do Not Focus on Disability unless it is crucial to a story. Avoid tear-jerking human interest stories about incurable diseases, congenital impairments, or severe injury. Focus instead on issues that affect the quality of life for those same individuals, such as accessible transportation, housing, affordable health care, employment opportunities, and discrimination.

Do Not Portray Successful People with Disabilities as Superhuman or Heroes. Even though the public may admire superachievers, portraying people with disabilities as superstars raises false expectations that all people with disabilities should achieve this level.

Do Not Sensationalize a Disability
by saying afflicted with, crippled with, suffers from, victim of, and so on. Instead, say person who has multiple sclerosis.

Do Not Use Generic Labels
for disability groups, such as "the retarded", "the deaf". Emphasize people, not labels. Say people with mental retardation or people who are deaf.

Put People First, not their disability. Say woman with arthritis, children who are deaf, people with disabilities. This puts the focus on the individual, not the particular functional limitation. Because of editorial pressures to be succinct, we know it is not always possible to put people first. If the portrayal is positive and accurate, consider the following variations: disabled citizens, non-disabled people, wheelchair-user, deaf girl, paralyzed child, and so on. Crippled, deformed, suffers from, victim of, the retarded, infirmed, the deaf and dumb, etc., are never acceptable under any circumstances. Also, do not use nouns to describe people, such as epileptic, diabetic, etc.

Emphasize Abilities, not limitations. For example: uses a wheelchair/braces, walks with crutches, rather than confined to a wheelchair, wheelchair-bound, differently-abled, birth difference, or crippled. Similarly, do not use emotional descriptors such as unfortunate, pitiful, and so forth. Do Not Use Condescending Euphemisms. Disability groups also strongly object to using euphemisms to describe disabilities. Terms such as handicapable, mentally different, physically inconvenienced, and physically challenged are considered condescending. They reinforce the idea that disabilities cannot be dealt with upfront.

Do Not Imply Disease when discussing disabilities that result from a prior disease episode. People who had polio and experienced after effects have post-polio syndrome. They are not currently experiencing the disease. Do not imply disease with people whose disability has resulted from anatomical or physiological damage, e.g., person with spina bifida or cerebral palsy. Reference to disease associated with a disability is acceptable only with chronic diseases, such as arthritis, Parkinson's disease, or multiple sclerosis. People with disabilities should never be referred to as patients or cases unless their relationship with their doctor is under discussion.

Show People With Disabilities as active participants of society. Portraying persons with disabilities interacting with non-disabled people in social and work environments helps break down barriers and open lines of communications.

Ten Commandments of Etiquette

Outlined below are the "Ten Commandments of Etiquette for Communicating with People with Disabilities" to help you in communicating with persons with disabilities:
  1. When talking with a person with a disability, speak directly to that person rather than through a companion or sign language interpreter.
  2. When introduced to a person with a disability, it is appropriate to offer to shake hands. People with limited hand use or who wear an artificial limb can usually shake hands. (Shaking hands with the left hand is an acceptable greeting).
  3. When meeting a person, who is visually impaired, always identify yourself and others who may be with you. When conversing in a group, remember to identify the person to whom you are speaking.
  4. If you offer assistance, wait until the offer is accepted. Then listen to or ask for instructions.
  5. Treat adults as adults. Address people who have disabilities by their first names only when extending the same familiarity to all others. (Never patronize people who use wheelchairs by patting them on the head or shoulder).
  6. Leaning on or hanging on to a person's wheelchair is similar to leaning or hanging on to a person and is generally considered annoying. The chair is part of the personal body space of the person who uses it.
  7. Listen attentively when you're talking with a person who has difficulty in speaking. Be patient and wait for the person to finish, rather than correcting or speaking for the person. If necessary, ask short questions that require short answers, a nod or shake of the head. Never pretend to understand if you are having difficulty doing so. Instead, repeat what you have understood and allow the person to respond. The response will clue you in and guide your understanding.
  8. When speaking with a person who uses a wheelchair or a person, who uses crutches, place yourself at eye level in front of the person to facilitate the conversation.
  9. To get the attention of a person, who is deaf, tap the person on the shoulder or wave your hand. Look directly at the person and speak clearly, slowly, and expressively to determine if the person can read your lips. Not all people who are deaf can read lips. For those who do lip-read, be sensitive to their needs by placing yourself so that you face the light source and keep hands, cigarettes and food away from your mouth when speaking.
  10. Don't be embarrassed if you happen to use accepted, common expressions such as "See you later," or "Did you hear about that?" that seems to relate to a person's disability. Don't be afraid to ask questions when you're unsure of what to do.
Chapter 4

Tips for Journalists: Interviewing People with Disabilities

National Center on Disability & Journalism*

The Best Tip: Ask the Expert - the person you are interviewing - about how best to provide their accommodation.

Before the Interview

Ask the interviewee if they require any specific accommodation (Wheelchair access, quiet place, interpreter, etc.). If unsure about how to provide the accommodation, ask the interviewee.

Allow plenty of time for the interview. Some accommodations require additional time (for example: interpreters, speech boards, etc.)

Setting up the Interview

Place yourself and the camera (if applicable) at interviewee's eye level. If the interview will take place on a platform, and the interviewee has a physical disability, be sure there is proper physical access to the interviewing area.

During the Interview

When interviewing a person with disability, speak directly to that person and maintain eye contact rather than interacting directly with an interpreter or companion. Use the same interviewing techniques and manner as you usually do. Speak in relaxed, everyday tones.

When talking with a person with a hearing loss, be sure to face them and do not cover your mouth when you speak. Place yourself so that you face the light source and are not backlit. Make sure you talk when the person is looking at you.

When meeting an interviewee who has a visual impairment, identify yourself and others who may be with you. When conversing in a group, remember to identify the person to whom you are speaking.

* © 2002, National Center on Disability and Journalism. Materials may be used for educational purposes without permission; however, NCDJ would appreciate knowing how materials are used. Please contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or phone 415-291-0868.

Listen attentively when you are talking with a person who has difficulty in speaking. Be patient and wait for the person to finish, rather than correcting or speaking for them. Never pretend to understand if you are having difficulty in doing so. Instead, repeat what you have understood and allow the person to respond.

When covering an event where a sign or oral interpreter is present, be aware of the communication between an interpreter or real time captioner and the person using their services. Avoid walking between them or blocking their communication while taking a photograph. Often people who use interpreters are located near the front in a designated section. Remember, blocking this communication is like pulling the plug on the public address system.

Other Etiquette Suggestions

Focus on the person you are interviewing, not the disability.

Shake hands when greeting a person with a disability. People with prosthetics or limited hand motion usually shake hands.

If you offer assistance, wait until the offer is accepted. Then listen or ask for instructions. A wheelchair or other assistive devise is part of the person's body space. Don't lean or hang on a person's wheelchair.

Service animals and guide dogs are working. Do not make eye contact, praise, talk or pet the animal. It is distracting for the animal and owner.

The following tips from Reporting Diversity Handbook by the British Diversity Institute is also very useful:

People with disabilities —whether physical or mental — are frequently ignored by the media. When they are not ignored, they are usually written about as people to be either mocked or pitied. Reporters often discuss their problems and issues with doctors, government authorities and others without ever talking to disabled people themselves, so they have little idea what those affected are feeling and thinking about their own situation. This may have something to do with the fact that it can be hard to find people with disabilities to interview. People with schizophrenia, retardation and other mental and emotional difficulties have long been hidden a way, either at home or in institutions, because their families have been ashamed of them or have wanted to protect them from social discrimination. The same is true for people missing limbs or suffering from cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and other physical handicaps, especially since society has made little effort to accommodate their needs in education, the work-place and the physical infrastructure, such as streets and public buildings.

Another difficulty is that people with some forms of disability are frequently also members of other social groups viewed negatively by the larger society. Although anyone can become infected with HIV and AIDS, drug addicts, prostitutes and homosexuals who generally are not accepted as valuable members of society are frequently viewed as having the greatest risk.

Here are some things to keep in mind when covering people with disabilities:
  1. First, make sure to cover them. And when you cover them, make sure to actually talk to them. What others tell you about them even if they speak of them sympathetically should be just the starting point for your material. You should make contact with disabled people themselves and ask them if what other people have told you corresponds to how they themselves view their situation. If there is a contradiction in what you hear, you can go back to the doctors or others who perceive themselves as experts and question them again.
  2. Do not cover disabled people only in the context of their disabilities. Disabled people have interests, careers, and families like everyone else. If you come across people who have attained success as artists, politicians, or professionals in spite of having a disability, that might make a good story. Spend some time with them to find out how they overcame many difficulties on the path to success. Ask them what advice they might have for others in similar situations.
  3. Be careful with language. Every language has its own set of words some insulting, some not-to describe people with disabilities. You may think that a particular word or expression is not hurtful, but you are not the best judge. If people with that disability tells you that they prefer to be referred to in some other way, you should seriously consider their request.
  4. One important aspect of journalistic coverage of people with disabilities is the issue of access. Write a story about whether or not society is making an effort to allow people with disabilities to participate in important social activities. If it is not, why not? Is it a question of money, lack of political will, deeply entrenched prejudice, or some other reason? What kind of education and professional opportunities are open or closed to disabled people?
  5. Explore the issue of whether, and how people with disabilities are forming groups or working with other non-governmental organizations to promote their rights. In many countries in Eastern Europe, for example, people with HIV and AIDS have created their own associations, both to find a way to support one another and to pressure the government and society to acknowledge their needs. In some areas, people with mental and physical disabilities, and their families, are demanding greater access to effective treatment. Find out what is going on in your region.
  6. Make sure you know what you are talking about. If you are writing about people with HIV, for example, make sure you understand the difference between being infected with HIV and having AIDS. Make sure you understand how HIV is transmitted and how it is not transmitted. Journalists have a wonderful opportunity to inform people, but they also have a great responsibility not to misinform them.
  7. There is a difference, for a journalist, between feeling empathy for people with disabilities and pitying them. If you feel empathy, it means you respect them as individuals because you have spoken with them, spent time with them, observed their lives first hand. Pity is often tinged with a condescending attitude that you, or others, know better than they do what they need. If you have formed opinions about the people with disabilities based on what people other than the disabled say about them, you are more likely to feel pity and are not yet prepared to write about their issues.
  8. Because the disabled people are often hidden from society, it can be difficult to find people to talk to. The best approach to start is to contact groups and NGOs that represent them. Talk to the organizers to develop a general understanding of their concerns, and ask them to put you in touch with some of their members. You should also make sure to talk to others not involved with the group, who may have a different perspective or may offer more forthright or straightforward thoughts and opinions.
  9. It is often true that stereotypes have an element of truth. There may be many beggars or homeless people among those without limbs but that is most likely because society does not offer them any other choices. Drug addicts may have a higher rate of HIV but that may be because they do not understand how to protect themselves from infection or do not have access to clean needles. The reasons for the association often have deep roots in society's problems, and blaming the people themselves is not the role of the journalist.
Chapter 5

About RCI


In 1983, the National Handicapped Council consisting of representatives of the Central Ministries, National Institutes and prominent voluntary organizations came to the conclusion that one of the main reasons of the programmes on disability not making headway was lack of trained manpower in the field of disability. The training programmes were going on in an isolated and adhoc manner and the courses were not uniform and the institutes were awarding certificates, diplomas and degrees according to their own convenience. Therefore, the need was felt for having a central body in order to maintain uniformity in standards of training and examinations. Later on in 1984, the Conference of State Social Welfare Ministers recommended to the Government of India to set up the Rehabilitation Council which will be responsible for standardization and monitoring of training progammes all over the country. Accordingly, Rehablitation Council was set up by the Ministry of Welfare, Government of India in January, 1986 as a registered society. However, it was realized that the Rehabilitation Council could not effectively enforce uniform standards and norms all over the country due to lack of statutory powers.

Rehabilitation Council of India Act, 1992

Subsequently a Bill was introduced in the Parliament to make it a statutory body. The President of India gave his assent to the Rehabilitation Council of India Act, 1992 on September 1, 1992. As provided in the Rehabilitation Council of India Act, 1992, Rehabilitation Council was converted into a statutory body called "Rehabilitation Council of India" from June, 1993. The RCI Act was amended by the Parliament in 2000 to make it more broad based. The Act casts onerous responsibility on the Council and prescribes that any one delivering services to people with disability, who does not possess qualifications recognized by RCI, could be prosecuted. Thus the Council has the twin responsibility of standardizing and regulating the training of professionals in the field of rehabilitation and special education. The Act also requires the Council to maintain a Central Rehabilitation Register for registration of trained professionals and personnel and promote research in rehabilitation and special education.


Preamble of the RCI Act : "An Act to provide for the constitution of the Rehabilitation Council of India for regulating the training of rehabilitation professionals and monitoring the training of rehabilitation professionals and personnel, promoting research in rehabilitation and special education and maintenance of a Central Rehabilitation Register and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto".

  1. To regulate the training policies and programmes in the field of rehabilitation of disabled persons.
  2. To prescribe minimum standards of education and training for various categories of professionals dealing with disabled persons.
  3. To regulate these standards in all training institutions to bring about uniformity throughout the country.
  4. To recognize institutions/universities running degree/diploma/certificate courses in the field of rehabilitation of the disabled and to withdraw recognition, wherever facilities are not satisfactory.
  5. To recognize foreign degrees/diplomas/certificates on reciprocal basis and to get Indian degrees/diplomas/certificates recognized abroad and to withdraw such recognition awarded by universities/institutions on a reciprocal basis.
  6. To maintain Central Rehabilitation Register of persons possessing the recognized rehabilitation qualification.
  7. To encourage Continuing Rehabilitation Education in collaboration with organizations working in the field of disability.
  8. To promote research in rehabilitation and special education.
Categories of Rehabilitation Professionals

Under the Act, following categories of Professionals/Personnel have been notified under the purview of the Council :
  1. Audiologists and Speech Therapists.
  2. Clinical Psychologists.
  3. Hearing and Ear Mould Technicians.
  4. Rehabilitation Engineers and Technicians.
  5. Special Teachers for Educating and Training the Handicapped.
  6. Vocational Counsellors, Employment Officers and Placement Officers Dealing with Handicapped.
  7. Multi-purpose Rehabilitation Therapists & Technicians.
  8. Speech Pathologists.
  9. Rehabilitation Psychologists.
  10. Rehabilitation Social Workers.
  11. Rehabilitation Practitioners in Mental Retardation.
  12. Orientation and Mobility Specialists.
  13. Community Based Rehabilitation Professionals.
  14. Rehabilitation Counsellors/Administrators.
  15. Prosthetists and Orthotists.
  16. Rehabilitation Workshop Managers.
  17. Any other category of Professionals included from time to time.
Some of the Highlights of the Achievements of RCI

When the RCI was set up there were just 20 training institutions in this sector. As on March 2005 there are 184 institutions recognized by the RCI. Out of them 29, adjudged the best by the Assessment and Accreditation Committee, have been accorded accredited status since the process started in 2000. These institutions are conducting over 250 batches in programmes at different levels from certificate programmes to master's degree programmes. As many as 25,600 professionals/personnel with recognized qualifications in the area of rehabilitation and special education are now registered with RCI in the Central Rehabilitation Register. It has so far developed and approved 98 training programmes to meet the manpower requirements of the 16 categories of professionals allocated to it. However, 45 old/outdated courses have been freezed as recommended by an expert committee and now the list stands at 53 only. Universities and other institutions have adopted these courses. RCI offers assistance to institutions for conducting Continuing Rehabilitation Education (CRE) programmes to update the knowledge and skills of professionals already working in the field.

A milestone in the record of the RCI has been the successful launch and conclusion of a National Bridge Course to upgrade the skills of those working in this field even prior to 1993 and register them as rehabilitation personnel. Started in 1998, this course covered 12,665 special teachers and rehabilitation workers. The bridge course was conducted through 163 institutions in 23 States. In the initial stages there was resistance from the target group but this was soon overcome. This project has triggered a range of institutional reform processes in the disability sector, which has now acquired the much needed professionalism. The success of this programme is evident from the fact that it was featured in the Limca Book of Records for training maximum number of candidates in a short span of time.

Another major national programme conducted by RCI related to orientation training of Primary Health Centre (PHC) doctors to disability management. RCI has ensured that the medical aspects are taken care of. At the grassroots level the disabled go to the PHCs when they have any problem and unless the doctors in the PHCs are properly oriented they will not be able to appreciate the special needs of the disabled. So the RCI launched a national programme of orientation of medical officers working in PHCs towards disability management in 1999. The programme has successfully concluded in March, 2004 and has trained 634 master trainers and 18,657 medical officers in 32 States.

In another initiative, the RCI launched a B.Ed. (Special Education) course in the distance mode through the Madhya Pradesh Bhoj (Open) University in August 2001. The programme has proved very successful and more than 6,000 candidates have joined the course.

A 90-day Foundation Course for in-service teachers has also been launched in the distance education mode through Bhoj University. This replaces the 45-day course launched earlier for the benefit of elementary school teachers after the disability component was introduced in the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) of the Union of Ministry of Human Resource Development. These in-service courses for teachers are popular and a number of government, private and army schools have evinced interest in enrolling their teachers. More than 6500 in-service teachers have already undergone this course.

Similar distance education programmes meant to sensitize parents of the disabled and grassroots level functionaries have been launched through Indira Gandhi National Open University.

An MOU has been signed with Bangalore University to launch Post-Graduate Diploma and Diploma in Community Based Rehabilitation through distance mode from 2004-05.

Similar arrangements have also been made with the Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal to launch Post-Graduate Diploma in Disability Management (PGDDM) for medical officers and Certificate in Clinical Psychology for Psychologists working as Clinical Psychologists for more than five years.

An MOU was signed with National Council for Teacher Education in 2005 with the objective to strengthen the education system by creating appropriate platform for the inclusion of special children in general schools with the ultimate aim of creating one school system for all children. This would also help to develop minimum standards for offering special education teacher preparation courses and undertake research studies for promotion of inclusive education.

In keeping with current trend of decentralized functioning, the RCI has set up seven zonal committees with select non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as the nodal agencies. These committees facilitate the strengthening of the quality of the training programmes in their zones providing technical support where needed.

To make full use of the information communication technology for the benefit of persons with disabilities, the RCI constituted an expert committee for ICT for the first time which has made useful recommendations to include a component of ICT in all the courses approved by RCI.

RCI has also taken up with IGNOU to provide Direct Reception Satellite (DRS) facility to its recognized institutions and already 25 centres have been linked to this system. Process for connecting another 25 centres is in progress. With the introduction of this facility, students from far and remote areas, who are undertaking the RCI approved courses, can have access to interactive learning with experienced academicians and resource persons from the disability area.

In order to project its image and create awareness about activities and functions of the Council as well as sensitize society about the problems and potentials of persons with disabilities, wide publicity campaigns are organized from time to time through print/ electronic media. A website, both English and Hindi, has been launched to disseminate information about RCI. A Universally Accessible Website has also been designed by the National Informatics Centre (NIC), for the benefit of persons with disabilities.

A number of useful publications are brought out from time to time. Some of the major publications include the Status of Disability in India - 2000 and 2003 (revised edition), Training Manual on Disability Management for IAS Officers/ Universities/ Institutions, RCI Newsletter, Book on Institution Builders in the Disability Sector, Proceedings of the All India Cross Disability Convention, RCI Towards Nation Building _ a book on decadal progress, Manual on Earmould Technology, Manuals for PHC and Bridge Course programmes, etc.

The RCI has come out with a vision document envisaging human resource development during the decade 2000--2010 to achieve universalization of special education in all its form, the creation of a better psycho-social environment for the rehabilitation of the disabled, the promotion of research to ascertain the models of rehabilitation or special education that are most suited in the Indian context, the promotion of human resource development in the field of geriatric rehabilitation and the orientation of village craftsmen to disability so that the disabled could be absorbed in the various poverty alleviation programmes.