Disability news, Accessibility Issues, Disability Issues, Accessiblity News

A note about language for my friends in the media

August 29th, 2008

Sarah Palin has just joined John McCain as his running mate, and she took the stage in Dayton accompanied by her husband Todd and four of her five children — including youngest son Trig, who was born in April. (Oldest son Track is in the Army, and will deploy to Iraq next month.)

A few minutes before Palin appeared, I heard David Gergen on CNN referring to Trig Palin as “a Down syndrome child.” Ouch.

We can do better than that.

It’s worth remembering that people with Down syndrome are just that — people — and should be referred to as such. Let’s make an extra effort, when discussing Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, to say that Trig “has Down syndrome,” or is a “child with Down syndrome.” Using language that puts the person first sends a strong message that people should not be defined by their disabilities. Like all Americans, people with disabilities deserve our respect and consideration.

And while we’re on the subject, let me offer some guidance on disrespectful language to avoid in discussing the lives of people who have Down syndrome.

Please, people, let’s not say that they “suffer” from Down syndrome, or that they are “afflicted” by Down syndrome. Down syndrome is a chromosomal condition that doesn’t interfere with a person’s ability to lead a happy, satisfying and productive life, and to contribute to their family and community.

Please, don’t refer to Trig as a “Down’s child,” a “Down syndrome child,” or “a Downs.” This is outdated language that demeans in its assumption that a person’s disability is the most important thing about them. And I shouldn’t have to tell you that old-fashioned terms like “mongoloid” and “mongol” are considered insulting by the disability community.

Looking for more information? Here’s a release from the National Down Syndrome Congress and the National Down Syndrome Society.

14 Responses to “A note about language for my friends in the media”

  1. Julana Says:

    Here the NYT refers to Barbara Curtis’s son with Down syndrome as a “Down syndrome” child.


  2. Kate Gladstone Says:

    One disability activist (who himself has a disability) explains why he opposes that oft-heard order to put the word for “person” first — http://web.syr.edu/~jisincla

  3. Judith Says:

    I am happy to have found this website. Alot of good information and SOME intelligent conversation. Things aren’t as black and white as some would want us all to believe. I am pro choice/no questions asked but pregnant at 44 I would not abort in any case.

  4. Scott Says:

    @ Trisomy 21 (aka mongoloid),

    What a classy post. You should print it out and put on your refrigerator.

    Maybe send copies to your parents, friends and your boss.

    I’m sure they’d all be so proud.

  5. yanub Says:

    Jessica, no one here brought race up until you did, so tell me who has the fixation? I really appreciate that Patricia has kept her eye on disability issues, and has so far been even-handed regarding the candidates. Let’s face it. Neither party has disability issues close to its heart, and what has been achieved has been done in a bipartisan spirit thanks to both Democratic and Republican individuals. If we want change, we have to pressure both parties.

    M**g*loid is obviously of no particular political persuasion. He’s just a troll.

  6. Jessica Says:

    Talk about ignorance… you know, for Democrats who are constantly bringing up the race card with regard to Obama, it is absolutely sickening to read posts, presumably from Democrats AND Republicans, referring to Palin’s son as “retarded” and saying she made a mistake in bringing him into this world. God created him, just as He created all of you posting here. Maybe the REAL mistake He made wasn’t in creating Trig, but bringing ignorant, unintelligent people who speak too loudly into the world.

    My only hope is that other people who may be swayed by your opinion, “Mongoloid”, will think of you as an idiot the way I certainly do. This “right-to-lifer” is beginning to think maybe you don’t have that right.

  7. Nancy Iannone Says:

    Let’s hope they get the message. The press seemed a little behind on who she is but of course we knew all about her from you Pat! I saw her speech – she was definitely a great speaker. I think she’ll be an asset to his campaign, though I’m still a Democrat and will vote as such in November. As a mom who also had a prenatal diagnosis, it’s great to see someone in the game who also welcomed her child despite pressure. Like Trig, our daughter has been a wonderful addition to our family.

  8. Justin Says:


    Your rant does little more than highlight the minimal effect you have on others. If the qualification for deserving life is IQ, then you may have a case. If the qualification is ignorance or application of reason within a society, then your parents are the irresponsible parties. Arrogance is defining the value of any individual using all-caps.

    I can’t speak to your motivations, but your method for expressing yourself is poorly thought out and constructed. As a result, it has zero effect on voters. None.

  9. Mongoloid Says:

    How about using the original term, MONGOLOID?

    How about knocking off all this Politically Correct BS and calling this what it is: SHEER STUPIDITY AND ARROGANCE, to KNOWINGLY bring a retarded child into this world.

    Palin had the opportunity to ABORT this defective fetus, and knowingly chose NOT TO. It is no doubt a primary reason WHY McCain chose her. Talk about PANDERING.

    The right-to-lifers (socalled) must be in bliss!
    The rest of us are totally disgusted.

    McCain just GAVE AWAY the White House to the Obama crowd.
    Thanks, you moron!

  10. Anne Says:

    I just hope that Gov. Palin doesn’t use Trig for the sympathy vote either.

  11. DM Says:

    Hmm… seems to me that there will need to be a whole new coming to awareness level from Hollywood to DC with lay overs in Atlanta!

  12. William Says:

    Quick question: Is it okay if the media call Trig a tard or a doorknob? I’m on a deadline. Thanks!

  13. Ecki Says:

    Oh gosh, I already sent an email to CNN blasting them on their language. Trig is not “afflicted”, “unfortunate” or a “problem.” And I’m sick of CNN harping on the fact that a child with Down syndrome “takes up so much time.” Ugh. Although I don’t agree with many of her positions politically, I’m thrilled to see her out on the campaign trail with Trig. It shows that it’s not a tragedy to have a child with Down syndrome and if SHE can do it, anyone can!

  14. Mary Says:

    Timely points, simply stated. I plan to forward this post to my two local newspapers ASAP.

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More than 50 million people in the United States have disabilities, a number that is growing rapidly as the population ages. Experts say disability will soon affect the lives of most Americans. This website attempts to aggregate news and commentary about disability, and to document the efforts of people who are seeking new ways to address familiar challenges.

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