The use of offensive language in the media against persons with disabilities – What measures should be taken?


Words have meaning and weight. Undeniably, the language we use to refer to people with disabilities has an impact, as it shapes our perception of the world. This language has evolved over time and terms that were commonly used a few years ago are no longer acceptable. It is therefore important to raise awareness of the language that is appropriate to use when speaking to or for people with disabilities. Inappropriate language can make people feel excluded or offend them and can be a barrier to full and meaningful participation. The use of derogatory or inappropriate language can lead to discrimination and impair the enjoyment of human rights. By adopting a language that celebrates diversity, we will contribute to strengthening the disability human rights model and creating a more inclusive Kosovo.

From the academic point of view, the lack of media representation of persons with disabilities, the restrictive access to the media combined with the lack of education on the field of disabilities of journalists and the media in general and in particular the lack of knowledge of adequate terminology in addressing disabilities are some of the causes that lead to the use of inappropriate language in the media towards people with special needs. This language, which is used in the media, is by no means meant to offend or discriminate.

Words such as “category” of persons with limited abilities or “those affected” (by Down syndrome), and “disabled” are words that are frequently used by the media in Kosovo and are considered inappropriate and for this reason, fair use of language and adequate terminology in the media is a must. Furthermore, even the term “Persons with special needs” is not adequate and as such should be replaced by the term Persons with Disabilities, as a term which is acceptable and legal and approved by the representatives of persons with Disabilities themselves. in Kosovo.

At the same time, an inclusive language is a key tool in combating ability and its ingrained manifestations. Ableism is a wrong and biased understanding of disability that leads to the assumption that the lives of people with disabilities are not worth living. Ableism can take many forms, including hurtful language.
In terms of language and terminology, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities sets the standard for us all to follow. General comments issued by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, along with other authoritative United Nations documents, also provide guidance for better understanding the Convention and its language.

These practical guidelines aim to promote the continued use of respectful language at the United Nations. They contain the general principles to be applied and are intended to be practical and easy to use. However, the finalization of a list consisting of terms that require additional clarification from a linguistic point of view, in order to avoid common mistakes and to be in accordance with the terminology standards of the United Nations remains a work to be developed in the future in Kosovo.

This article was written with the financial support of the European Union within the project “Combating discrimination, hate speech and gender-based violence”.  Its contents are the sole responsibility of ATRC, IKS and D4D, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.