[Ohio-talk] FW: Article: Why People Hide Their Disabilities at Work

Richard Payne rchpay7 at gmail.com
Mon Jun 10 00:21:03 UTC 2019

Ali, This would be good reading also.
Braille Monitor                                                  May 2010

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The Continuing Saga of People-First Language

by Larry E. Streeter 

Larry StreeterFrom the Editor: Since the emergence of the concept of
people-first language some twenty years ago, members of the NFB have
objected to the practice and the specious arguments that are used to justify
it. At the 1993 convention we even passed a resolution articulating our
opposition to the idea that the fact of our humanity must precede any
reference to the disability of blindness. Ours continues to be a minority
position, at least among bureaucrats and blindness professionals. Some
otherwise well-intentioned people, however, apparently find these wordy
circumlocutions somewhat seductive. Though we try to keep the pages of the
Monitor free of such pointless verbosity, we notice it even creeping into
NFB documents. We are always pleased, therefore, to publish fresh statements
of the NFB's established position on people-first language. Dr. Larry
Streeter is a longtime Federation leader. He recently submitted the
following compilation of arguments for straightforward English. He has been
a school administrator at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually
Impaired in Indianapolis, Indiana for two-and-a-half years. This is what he

It was not so very long ago that George Herbert Walker Bush, the forty-first
president of the United States introduced his thousand points of light. He
handed out accolades to those worthy of such recognition. Like the former
president I appreciate valuable contributions. Although I do not have a
thousand points of light, I do occasionally say to someone that he or she
has earned the gold star for the day, week, or month. For example, any
teacher of the blind who goes against the traditional way of thinking and
introduces Braille or a white cane to a four- or five-year-old blind child
(especially those with some residual vision) is worthy of high praise and
recognition. I would also offer a gold star when a state rehabilitation
agency counselor recognizes that quality training is important for the blind
client and agrees to pay for such training at one of our NFB training

On the other hand, as far as I know, Mr. Bush never had a list of one
thousand points of darkness, nor do I. However, I do have a few points of
irritation. At or near the top of my short list is the use of person-first
language. I have always strongly opposed person-first language and over the
past decade or so have wanted to address the issue in one way or another.
For those who are unfamiliar with the topic, rather than using, for example,
the term "blind person," person-first advocates would use "person who is
blind," "person who is visually impaired," or "person with blindness or
visual impairment."

Although I could recount several tales on this topic, my personal irritation
really went off the charts when I worked at the Idaho State Department of
Education. I was serving as the chairman of a task force to conduct a study
on the education of blind children in Idaho. About twenty-five people worked
on the project at one time or another over the three years of the study. A
variety of people served on the task force: teachers of the blind,
orientation and mobility specialists, special education directors, general
education teachers, blind consumers, parents of blind students, blind
students, and vocational rehabilitation personnel, among others. When the
study was completed and ready to be printed, a supervisor gave the order
that in order to proceed the document had to be written in person-first
language. Only one person on the task force used such constructions. I gave
the supervisor articles from the Braille Monitor on the subject written by
Dr. Kenneth Jernigan and Dr. Ed Vaughan, debated and pleaded, and described
how much energy and effort the members had put into the project. In the end
it was all in vain. It was clear that the content did not matter; the use of
person-first language did. We were able to write a disclaimer, but our
initial attempt was considered too strong. In total disgust I ultimately
surrendered and apologized individually to many members of the task force.
The secretary made the changes, and the document was published. It was
circulated far and wide. Years have passed, but every time I think about
that report my stomach turns over, and I want to scream.

I have wondered whether anyone out there had the same feelings and attitudes
about the subject as I do. I decided that checking this out would indeed be
worth my time. I sent a number of emails seeking opinions on the subject,
placed my request on Facebook, was surprised that some people did not reply,
and reviewed many thoughtful responses. Eventually I selected the following
statements and reactions to people-first language:

Barbara Pierce, Ohio: Dear Larry, The definitive statement on people-first
language was written by Dr. Jernigan. His thoughts capture it all. I have no
patience with this circumlocution. Those who are not ashamed of any
characteristic used to describe them are comfortable having it appear before
the noun. I vote for crisp, accurate prose, and that is generally not
people-first language.

Mary Ellen Halverson, Idaho: As for person-first language, I don't think I
have anything new to contribute. Personally I describe myself as blind
woman, blind student, blind employee, etc., because these things are
reasonable to say and in no way derogatory to me as a blind person. I am not
going to beat around the bush and say, "I am a woman who is blind." I know
who I am, and I'm not worried about not being thought of as a woman first.
Groups that insist on person-first language must be uncomfortable with our
blindness and may try to hide behind language, but their preferred word
order should not become law or policy. We have the right to be free in
speech and language as long as it is not disrespectful.

Al Spooner, Minnesota: I believe some disabled people prefer this way of
describing their disabilities, but I am not one of them. I think that it is
very wrong to make the sweeping generalization that all groups of disabled
people prefer that we use such phrases as "those who are disabled," "those
who are deaf," "those who are blind," etc. The solution is a simple one;
just ask! I am a blind person, not a person who is blind. I am disabled, not
a person with a disability. I should also point out that a disability and a
handicap are not the same thing. When I became blind, I became disabled and
handicapped. With the proper adjustment-to-blindness training I was able to
eliminate the handicap, but I am and always will be classified by law as a
disabled person and as a blind person, which I am not ashamed to be called.

Susan Jones, Indiana: Well my take is that people-first language takes too
long to say. Why not just say "blind people" and get to the point? If it
takes too long to get to the point, the point may be missed.

Gary Ray, North Carolina: It seems to me that there are a couple of ways to
look at this. If I hear person-first language coming from a blind person, I
am convinced that he or she has not fully accepted blindness or visual
impairment. If however, it is coming from an able-bodied person, I think it
is condescending and stupid. When it comes from a blind person, I try to
educate and assist him or her to see what is going on inside. If it comes
from an able-bodied person, I try to ignore it because I only want to smack

Carol Castellano, New Jersey: As I'm sure you know, the thinking behind
people-first language is that the person is more important than the
disability, so, by using people-first language, we draw attention to the
person rather than the disability. Ah, if this were only how language
worked. Since this silly form goes against normal English usage, I think it
draws more attention to itself and forms its own little phrasing ghetto. In
English we put adjectives before nouns, unless we want to draw more
attention to the phrase. That's just how it is, and any native speaker knows
it without ever having to learn a rule about it.

I am sensitive to the fact that the language we use is important. As a
sixties feminist, for example, I do not like it when people refer to grown
women as girls. However, the difference is that we women decided to change
the language. It was not thrust upon us from an outside source.

Mike Gibson, Idaho: Person-first language has done nothing to improve or
enhance the quality of life for the blind. In fact I think it's accomplished
quite the opposite. By putting the person first, you are just sugar coating
the problem and denying the real disability and living situation. Once again
it's another attempt by the so-called experts to treat the symptoms and not
the root problem--lack of confidence, poor training, and little if any
support network.

Carrie Gilmer, Minnesota: First I ask, did blind people think this up for
themselves as something they desired? That is what I always ask first. I
understand the answer here is, no. So then, who thought it up and why? For
me the determination whether a phrase, term, or word that labels or
describes people is appropriate, derogatory, or useful depends on the
purpose and sometimes history of using that word or phrase. In other words:
What are you trying to say, man, and why are you choosing to say it that

What sweeping change did the inventors of people-first language imagine
would occur? That society would get so used to saying "people who are blind"
and thinking "people first" that it would move deeply into our nation's
psyche and that from this new knowledge that the blind are indeed people
would flow understanding and equality of education and employment? Is making
a distinction between being a person first and then blind factually correct
or desirable? My husband does not wish to forget that he is black, nor do my
children. They do wish some people would not assume certain things it does
not mean. A person is fundamentally a person, but a blind person is also
fundamentally blind. Blindness is not secondary; it is part and parcel of
the whole of that person. It is a fact of eyeballs, not value.

Dr. Fredric Schroeder, Virginia: It strikes me that a person's views on how
he or she wishes to be described should be respected. I have no objection to
people asking to be called a person with a disability. If there are people
in the cross disability movement who object to people-first language, I have
not heard about it; hence I use people-first language when talking about the
general disability community. Of course not all blind people have the same
feelings about people-first language. That said, it is my observation that
very few blind people use people-first language, and many object strongly to
its use. Starting with the view that we should respect people's wishes about
how they prefer to be described, it strikes me that proponents of
people-first language have an obligation to recognize and honor the feelings
of blind people and use the words "blind," not "people who are blind." They
may think we are wrong in our view, but it is our view, and I expect it to
be respected as I respect others who prefer the people-first convention.

 Shelley Bruns, Colorado: When I received your request, I recalled an
experience about thirty years ago. I visited a farm with some friends. When
we arrived, we walked around and came to a pigpen. One of my friends smoked.
When he had finished his cigarette, he tossed the butt into the pen. Without
hesitation one of the hogs, followed by several of his friends, scrambled
over and devoured it. Someone in the group made a comment that someday
someone would be eating that hog. How does this story relate to people-first
language? It just seems to me that someone threw out a concept, and others
have swallowed it hook, line, and sinker without ever stopping to think of
its negative consequences. 

Shelia Wright, Missouri: It is difficult for me to separate the topic of
people-first language and politically correct language. They seem to go hand
in hand in the minds of those who view themselves as professionals and who
want to speak on behalf of the blind. I believe the constant change in what
and how to say something is a huge mistake that our society buys into. Some
blind people have been deceived right along with the general public. In most
cases people-first language only detracts from the real issues. The general
public is already uncomfortable approaching a blind person. I think that the
overemphasis on people-first language only intensifies their discomfort.
They are so worried that they may say something wrong that they often avoid
contact altogether rather than risk saying the wrong thing. Others take the
risk but start out apologetic or struggle with how to phrase their

I am not at all put off by being referred to or referring to myself as a
blind person. I don't think it in any way makes me less of a person.
Changing one's language does not successfully change attitudes, perceptions,
or beliefs. Nor do I find that those who seem to be comfortable with
people-first language to be more aware of my interest, skills, abilities,
capabilities, or needs. In fact it seems to me that some people hide behind
language. I firmly believe that the use of the word "blind" and not trying
to separate it from being a part of me is what has helped me to understand
that being blind does not define me.

 Dean Bundy, Virginia: On the subject of people-first language, I offer this
little nugget on the subject of political correctness, of which people-first
language is a particularly egregious example. Specifically, there is an
annual contest at Texas A&M University calling for the most appropriate
definition of a contemporary term. This year's term was "Political
Correctness." The winner wrote: "Political correctness is a doctrine,
fostered by a delusional, illogical minority, and rabidly promoted by an
unscrupulous mainstream media." Unfortunately, Larry, I am unable to share
the final nineteen words from the quote because your editor would have to
cut them. However, the comment above is dramatically correct. 


There you have just a few of many comments received from blind and sighted
persons. I noted recently with great pleasure that the NFB published a book
with 100 letters from blind and sighted children and adults on the topic of
Braille reading and writing. By now the president of the United States has
received a copy of this document. I have read many of these letters, and so
far it is abundantly clear that people-first language was not preferred or
accepted by those submitting letters. The lack of support for people-first
language by the vast majority of blind people should send a clear message to
those who insist on using such language. 

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Richard Payne,  President
National Federation of the Blind of Ohio
937-396-5573or 937/829/3368
Rchpay7 at gmail.com
The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the
characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the
expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles
between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want;
blindness is not what holds you back

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Subject: [Ohio-talk] FW: Article: Why People Hide Their Disabilities at Work

Hello Ohio,

Got this from the Great Lakes ADA Information Center. I thought it is worth

Have a nice day y'all.


From: DBTAC - Great Lakes ADA Information <GREATLAKES at LISTSERV.UIC.EDU> On
Behalf Of Jones, Robin Ann
Sent: Saturday, June 8, 2019 4:34 PM
Subject: Article: Why People Hide Their Disabilities at Work

The following information is forwarded to you by the Great Lakes ADA Center
(www.adagreatlakes.org<http://www.adagreatlakes.org>) for your information:

Harvard Business Review

Why People Hide Their Disabilities at Work
By: Pooja Jain-LinkJulia Taylor Kennedy
June 3, 2019

Work is stressful. If you're hiding a disability, the daily grind of early
mornings, deadlines, and office politics is compounded into a far heavier
burden. You live in fear of being discovered. You work overtime to mask your
authentic self. But you aren't alone.

In the Center for Talent Innovation's "Disabilities and Inclusion" study, we
discovered that a full 30% of the professional workforce fits the current
federal definition of having a disability - and the majority are keeping
that status a secret. Only 39% of employees with disabilities have disclosed
to their manager. Even fewer have disclosed to their teams (24%) and HR
(21%). Almost none (4%) have revealed their disability to clients.

Some have no choice but to disclose. In our survey, 13% of employees told us
that their disability (or at least one of their disabilities if they
reported multiple) was visible; they wear this aspect of their identity for
the world to see. Employees in this group may use a wheelchair, rely on a
seeing eye dog, or have a prosthetic limb. But well over half of employees
(62%) reported that their disability is invisible, agreeing with the
statement, "unless I tell them, people do not know that I have a
disability." Invisible disabilities include depression and other mental
health conditions, ADHD, and diabetes, among many others. For another 26%,
their disability can be visible or invisible, depending on the
circumstances. Someone who has low vision, for example, may only use a cane
in unfamiliar places. Because so many disabilities are invisible (or
sometimes invisible), most people with disabilities must deliberately decide
when, whether, and with whom to share their disability status.

In our study, we calculated the value of disclosing this aspect of your
identity: Employees with disabilities who disclose to most people they
interact with are more than twice as likely to feel regularly happy or
content at work than employees with disabilities who have not disclosed to
anyone (65% versus 27%). They are also less likely to regularly feel nervous
or anxious (18% versus 40%) or isolated (8% versus 37%).

Through interviews, we see the long-term boon of incorporating your
disability status into your leadership brand. Take Chris Schlechty, a
software development engineer for Microsoft who has muscular dystrophy. In
addition to his primary job responsibilities, he serves as his team's
"accessibility driver," ensuring that products meet the needs of people with
all kinds of disabilities. "If there's an engineering question around
accessibility, Chris is the first person you go to," his coworker Melissa
shares. Chris's unique insight allows him to identify unmet market needs and
innovate for his employer - all because of his disability.

With personal and professional rewards available to those who disclose, why
hide your disability?

Since 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act has explicitly prohibited
disability-based discrimination. But the abstract reality of employee
protection clauses belies the day-to-day work experience, in which a
dominant work culture may implicitly signal - if not explicitly encourage -
conformity. Professionals with disabilities have expressed to us a myriad of
reasons for hiding their identities: They fear teasing or harassment. They
worry their relationships with coworkers will change. Many express concerns
that their manager might see them as lazy or less capable, and that their
career progress will stall as a result.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet solution. But once you test the
culture of inclusivity at your workplace, there are steps you can take
toward disclosure, relieving the stress of keeping things bottled up.

Look for signals of support. There are different ways organizations signal
to potential hires and employees that they take inclusion seriously and will
support an employee who discloses a disability. During the hiring process,
they will work to make a good first impression, creating transparency around
accommodation requests on their career site and during the application and
onboarding processes. Check to see if your employer lists disability in
their diversity statement and clearly highlights disability affinity
networks, mentor programs, and the accommodations process during new
employee orientation and on their website.

Get to know your manager. Among employees who disclose, the majority
disclose to their direct manager. This makes sense, as managers directly
impact access to equipment and can help with workload and flexibility. At
CTI, we've identified six traits that signal an inclusive leader: They make
sure everyone gets heard, offer actionable feedback, take advice, empower
team members, make it safe to propose ideas, and share credit for team
success. When employees with disabilities have inclusive leaders, they are
far less likely to experience discrimination or bias. If your boss exhibits
inclusive behaviors, it's a much safer bet for disclosure.

Identify an ally. If you don't feel comfortable disclosing to your manager,
seek out a peer you trust. And if even this proves challenging, research to
see if your company has a formal allyship program. Accenture's mental health
ally program, now available in 17 countries, for example, trains employees
to act as a first point of contact for colleagues living with a mental
health condition. Now 3,000 people trained to listen, provide information on
resources, and help connect employees to professional support. "Talking
openly and visibly destigmatizes the topic and builds the sense that it's
okay to let people know your true self," says Kirsten Doherty, manager in
inclusion and diversity at Accenture in the UK.

Join (or start) an ERG. Employee resource group or affinity groups for
employees with disabilities, as well as for caregivers, are increasingly
common. Among the companies that participated in Disability:IN's 2017
Disability Equality Index, 88% have a disability-focused ERG or affinity
organization, and 76% have an online chat function that connects employees
to fellow colleagues with disabilities. In addition to finding an empathetic
community, these groups can guide you toward resources and employee
offerings - even if you are not ready to open up about your disability to
your team or managers.

If you have an invisible disability, it is your right to disclose it on your
own time line, if at all. But if your company culture, or even just one
ally, sets the stage for disclosure, choosing to do so can help you thrive.
Imagine the possibility of decreased stress and the ability to engage with
your work, is and your workplace, as your whole self.

Source:  https://hbr.org/2019/06/why-people-hide-their-disabilities-at-work
(Long URL and may appear on more than one line on this page.  Copy and paste
the entire URL into your browser)
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