Media’s Power to Positively Change Society

Media’s Power to Positively Change Society
By Cindy Powell


What do print media, broadcast media and the internet have in common? They possess the ability to educate the public about using language that is accepted by people who have disabilities and their allies.

Because many people are unaware, they might unknowingly express insensitivity toward our nation’s largest minority group: 56.7 million Americans with disabilities, and their family members and friends.

Though media uses current language pertaining to technological advances, such as “tweet” when referring to social media Twitter updates, media professionals might inadvertently use outdated terminology when referring to those who disclose disabilities. Below are only a few examples:


  • Autistic
  • Epileptic
  • Handicapped (parking, restrooms)
  • Mentally challenged
  • Midget
  • Normal
  • Quadriplegic
  • Stroke victim
  • The ____________ (any disability: blind, deaf, disabled)
  • Wheelchair bound

Society has traditionally projected pity toward the 19% of Americans who have disabilities. For example, phrases such as “suffers from” or “confined to a wheelchair” inaccurately imply that the quality of life of people who have disabilities is less satisfactory than people who do not have disabilities.

People with limited knowledge might assume that anyone would be thrilled to receive surgery that provided or restored hearing to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Many people would be surprised to learn that most people who are born deaf, and who use American Sign Language (ASL) as their primary language, would decline surgery that would result in hearing, even if the surgery was provided with no fee.

Most adults who grew up severely or profoundly deaf are proud of their cultural identity. They share a kinship with others who are deaf and who primarily use ASL, the third most used U.S. language, to communicate.

Disabilities can occur in any family and affect all racial, ethnic, social and economic backgrounds. Media reaches millions of people. Media professionals can affect social change by providing positive examples when referring to those who disclose disabilities.

This poster provides examples of appropriate language when referring to people who have disabilities:


The following booklet, with guidelines on writing and reporting about people with disabilities, takes only minutes to read.


The vast majority of people who have disabilities do not want to be perceived as “inspirational”. Rather than being identified by their disabilities, people with disabilities desire being treated like people who do not disclose disabilities: as unique individuals. 

In 2010, Rosa’s Law was unanimously supported in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Rosa’s Law replaced "mental retardation" and "mentally retarded" with "intellectual disability" or "person with an intellectual disability" in Federal health, education and labor policy.

While celebrating the passage of Rosa's Law, Special Olympics CEO Dr. Timothy P. Shriver stated, "Respect, value, and dignity – everyone deserves to be treated this way, including people with intellectual disabilities."

Disability Educator and Sign Language Instructor Cindy Powell has had the privilege of professionally interacting with people who have disabilities since 1975.  

Over the past four decades, Disability Educator and Sign Language Instructor Cindy Powell has advised businesses, employers, government agencies and nonprofits about best practices with people with disabilities.


Cindy provides customized training on the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), tax incentives and other helpful topics, such as disability etiquette and service animals. Ms. Powell also provides customized sign language training.


Cindy has served on local, state and national disability organization Boards of Directors. Ms. Powell was recipient of International Association of Workforce Professionals' 2006 Services to Specialized Populations award. Cindy’s disability articles appear in print and online.


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