Instead of 'vegetable,' use 'person in a coma'


Posted at Jul 19 2010 11:54 AM | Updated as of Jul 20 2010 03:41 AM

Or how to communicate with people with special needs

MANILA, Philippines - Most people tend to address persons with special needs wrongly out of sheer ignorance.

The word "retarded," for one, has long been considered offensive by people with special needs. In 2004, Special Olympics began to refer to "mental retardation" as "intellectual disabilities" after athletes felt the medical term added social stigma to the everyday challenges they faced.

Even with a global campaign to end the R-word, several people continue to use the term not only to address those with special needs, but also to tease and mock others.

This must be fixed, however, as harsh words cut straight to the heart of a person with disabilities like a knife, according to the National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA).

The state-led agency came up with guidelines on how to communicate disability -- from how they should be called to how they ought to be described in any communication activity.

Below are some of the words that should be used to properly address people with special needs, as well as those that must be avoided:



When addressing or presenting people with disabilities, NCDA said that stereotypes should be avoided at all times.

Citing the United Nations, the agency said this includes portraying people with special needs as dependent, pitiful, inherently saintly or asexual, gratuitously dangerous, or uniquely endowed with a special skill.

Instead of resorting to stereotypes, NCDA said these people are better off portrayed as part of the general population.

The agency made the statement as some individuals and groups, including the media, tend to overemphasize the impairment or emotionalize the situation.


Not knowing the difference between an intellectual disability and a mental illness can also cause emotional suffering to people with special needs and their families, according to Dr. Rodney Dalisay, psychiatrist at the Philippine Mental Health Association.

This was the case for John Arvin, a child who was allegedly forced by cabin crew members to get off the plane for being wrongly labeled as "mentally ill." (Read story here.)

Contrary to what was claimed, the boy had global development delay, a condition that delays a child's ability to acquire motor skills as fast as normal kids.

"Because of ignorance, some people label others as mentally ill (when they really aren't)," Dalisay said during the launch of Special Olympics Philippines' (SOP) "Be A Fan" Campaign early this year. (Read story here.)

A mental illness refers to any condition that affects a person's mood, thinking and behavior (e.g. schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder) while an intellectual disorder is a level of mental functioning that is "well below average" (e.g. Down syndrome, autism, global development delay).

"Learn to address people properly, and treat them as persons we truly respect," said SOP director Alexander Babst. -- Karen Flores,

This year, the Philippines celebrates its 32nd National Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation Week from July 17 to 23. For the schedule of activities, click here.