While managing a Social Security disability practice, you’ll come across people from all walks of life. Some will be worried parents of a child born with a disability, some will be battling lifelong mental illnesses and mood disorders, and some will be devastated by a cancer diagnosis in the middle of their career. Regardless of what type of disability your clients have, there are general rules of thumb you should keep in mind when it comes to disability-related terminology you use on your website, when communicating via email, and when speaking with your clients in person.
#1: Always Use People-First Language
When referring to someone with a disability, describe the person first. It’s correct to say “a person with autism” as opposed to “an autistic person.” The reason why this is important is because it ensures that someone’s disability is not his or her defining characteristic. By focusing on people-first terminology, your firm will not fall into the historical trap of stereotyping people with disabilities and instead focus on the individual applicant. An exception here would be if your client refers to herself as “disabled.” In this case, it is not appropriate for an able-bodied attorney to correct someone’s identity.
#2: Avoid the Word “Suffers”
In general, you don’t want to use the term “suffers” on your website. Let’s say you have a page on how to qualify for Social Security disability benefits with vision loss. A sentence that reads as “if you suffer from vision loss, you may be eligible” can easily be reworded to “if you experience vision loss, you may be eligible” or something similar. People with disabilities do not like to think of their existence as “suffering,” but rather simply living life differently. It can be off-putting for an applicant to see that your firm refers to their disability as a “handicap” or something that causes suffering and anguish. While they may not be able to work a traditional 9-5 job, people with disabilities are still valued.
#3: Use Correct Spelling and Terminology
Another common mistake is using inaccurate spelling of a disability. For example, someone has “Down syndrome,” not “Down’s syndrome” or even “Down Syndrome.” Including the apostrophe insinuates that the scientist who discovered the disease, John Down, has ownership of the disability. Other conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, do include an apostrophe. Some condition names even change over time. Asperger syndrome is now included on the autism spectrum to make the condition more inclusive. It’s up to your firm to ensure you’re using correct punctuation for disease names. The communities who have these disabilities will be thankful your firm took the time to ensure its website is accurate.
#4: Stay Positive
Your firm will know all about staying positive for your clients due to the fact that more than 60% of Social Security disability claims are initially denied. You’ll want to keep your website verbiage positive when describing how someone with a disability will qualify for Social Security disability benefits via the Blue Book. On the other hand, be sure to not go too far with positivity. Many people with disabilities find that being called “inspirational” is offensive—it’s saying that having a disability is an obstacle to overcome instead of a different way of living.
The way we talk about people with disabilities is radically different than the 60’s or 70’s, or even just 10 years ago. As modern society changes to become more inclusive, your firm needs to keep up with language trends and new standards. By focusing on equality and speaking about people with disabilities with respect, you will have a much higher likelihood of finding more clients online, and retaining clients after an initial consultation.