METM16 presentation 

Putting people first while keeping the wheelchairs from blocking the exits: working with disability-related terms

Mary Fons i Fleming, Barcelona, Spain 

Does a sign that says “Disabled Access” strike us as strange, wrong or funny? Is “people-first” language (“people with disabilities”, “people who live on the street”) merely a source of wordiness or does it achieve any worthwhile goals?  Disability activists and specialists have distinct and evolving preferences for the use of certain terms over others, but many writers and speakers find them overly constraining. Meanwhile, disability movements in non-English-speaking cultures sometimes seem to track English-language trends with a significant time lag and use calque terms that are inappropriate to retain when translating into English (e.g. “handicapé”/ “handicappato”). Awareness of disabilities and disability issues, of the reasons for activists’ preferences, and of current usage trends can help writers, translators and interpreters make better choices. We will look at salient terminology, the issues behind it, current and past trends, and some sources of formal and informal terms. We will also consider our own attitudes towards disabilities and disability-related terms, and discuss strategies to keep the preferred terminology from cramping our writing style and distracting the reader from the rest of the content, particularly when the choice of terminology is part of the intended message. 

Mary Fons i Fleming has been working as a translator and as a conference interpreter for over 30 years, and enjoys learning about disparate subjects, especially when they come together in interesting ways. She was responsible for the English-language version of a disability-related journal for several years and continues to work for the organization, though not for the journal.