to Strengthen Inclusive School Communities
The language we use is important.
A shared understanding and agreement on the inclusive language
a school community will use ensures all students receive a dignified,
The language a school community uses about disability can influence attitudes and impact people’s lives. When school communities speak about others positively, using language that is preferred by students with disability and their families, it contributes to an inclusive culture that changes how students with disability are viewed by themselves and others, and supports a sense of belonging.
What language do you use to talk about students with disability?
When it comes to specific terms for disability, student preferences and voice (and those of their family when appropriate) take priority. Encourage students with disability to speak for themselves, and use their preferred language.
Language that positions a student as a problem or object of pity or charity, is not helpful.
Instead, when speaking about students (or others) with disability, think of the student holistically. Focus on their interests, contributions, personality traits, and individual and inter-personal strengths.
Use the student’s name.
Only refer to disability when it is relevant.
Some students prefer a person-first approach.
This is where you refer to the person before the disability, for example ‘student with cerebral palsy’. This puts the focus on the student, rather than their disability.
Others may prefer identity-first language.
For example, ‘disabled student’ rather than a ‘student with disability’. This can help individuals to claim their disability with pride.
Respect the diverse preferences of students.
This may mean using different terms for individual students in line with their personal preferences (for example, Marley is on the autism spectrum; Kyan has ADHD), and when discussing disability more broadly, using a term that most students are comfortable with (for example, ‘We have recently implemented a new approach to better support autistic students’).
Keep in mind that cultural groups may have different beliefs about disability.
For example, there is no comparable word for disability in Aboriginal languages, and many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability do not identify as a person with disability. This is important to remember when working with the student or their family.
Consider using the guide below to think about recommended language and the language preferred by the student and/or their family. You may note this down in the handout provided below. The terms below are not a fixed set of what is right and preferred language can change.
- People With Disability Australia. (2019). ‘What do I say? A guide to language about disability’.
- Brown & Quinn (2022). Talking About ADHD. AADPA: Australia. 'The People with Disability Australia guide was written by people with disability, and the AADPA guide was co-written by people with lived experience of ADHD'.
^Some students and/or their families may prefer this language, while others may not. Always ask a student and their family what language they would prefer you to use
Using strength-based language
- Explicitly identify a student’s strengths and what they can do. Many challenges can, in specific situations, also be a strength.
- Frame challenges in terms of external supports that may be needed.
- Identify a range of terms that can be utilised in place of deficit-based terminology.
Below are some examples that you may find helpful:
To learn how to incorporate a student’s strengths when developing strategies to support them in the classroom, view AllPlay Learn's Inclusive Questions. Teachers may access further examples and more by completing AllPlay Learn's Online Professional Learning Course.