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24th Aug 2021

Why it’s important to use correct terminology ahead of the Paralympics

The Paralympic Games have just begun, and are set to run until Sunday 5 September.

The multi-sport event sees athletes with physical disabilities compete at the games in Tokyo, with a number of them proudly flying the flag for Team Ireland.

The paralympians will be representing their country in an array of sports from archery to athletics to powerlifting, and we cannot wait to get behind them.

As we gear up for the games, it’s important to ensure that the correct terminology is used when discussing the Paralympics.

For starters, the International Paralympic Committee defines the term “Para sport” to mean “any sport in which people with a disability participate and which has classification rules compliant with the IPC Athlete Classification Code.”

During the games, the term Paralympic sport is used, and terms like “disabled sport” and “disability sport” are deemed incorrect by the IPC.

There is also a distinction between a Para athlete, and a Paralympian.

The soon-to-be four time Paralympian Ellen Keane pointed out this distinction on Twitter recently.

She wrote: “Paralympian: an athlete with a disability who HAS competed at the Paralympic Games.

“Para Athlete: an athlete with a disability who competes in disability events (Para).

“Every Paralympian is a Para Athlete, but not every Para Athlete is a Paralympian. Just like how you wouldn’t call someone an Olympian if they hadn’t been to the Olympics.”

In their guide, Paralympics New Zealand point to the importance of using correct Para based terms and disability based terms.

They outline how words like “cripple”, “handicap”, “invalid” and “impaired” all have “negative connotations in the English language”, and should not be used.

Additionally, when discussing disability, the guide advocates the use of the verb “has” rather than “suffers from”.

They write: “Disability is a statement of fact or refers to a medical condition. ‘Suffering’ portrays the individual as being in a weak, frail or tragic position.”

“Wheelchair user” is correct, while the outdated term “wheelchair-bound” is to be avoided.

The guide reads: “Terms like ‘bound’ or ‘confined’ should be avoided as they infer entrapment. Instead, a wheelchair is an aid or a tool, which a person uses.”

For more on correct terminology, both the IPC Guide and Paralympics New Zealand terminology guides are available to read online.