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PWD or Person with Disability: To Acronym or Not to Acronym?

Do you find yourself using the acronym PWD whenever you encounter a person with disability?

For many years, we are used to coining acronyms to simplify long and complex words that needed repetition in papers and in our daily lives. Say, National Council for Disability Affairs (NCDA) or Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), we normally use these acronyms to identify government offices, institutions and organizations, and even places and things to shorten the phrases.

Acronym, as defined by Oxford dictionary, is a word formed out of the first letters of phrases or group of words or titles. It is used to avoid repeating lengthy phrases we often use in our everyday language. It is used for clarity and space, so as to avoid long sentences; but this does not apply to people, especially marginalized and vulnerable groups.

Person-first Language

According to Handicap International and the NCDA, our existing laws emphasize that importance of proper usage of terms when referring to a person or people with disabilities.

“Republic Act 9442 has adapted the term person with disability (or people with disabilities for plural) which follows the Person or People-first Language,” Handicap International Philippines puts in their Basic Guide to Disability Identification manual. “It states that people with disabilities must be addressed by their names, or called persons first, not by their impairments.”

Say what you mean

Have you ever noticed the priority lanes in offices, malls, and establishments? Conscious or unconscious, many offices and establishments coin the term PWD in priority lanes. It is true that vulnerable sectors such as senior citizens, pregnant mothers, and persons with disabilities are given priority in line. These are all in accordance to the provisions of the Magna Carta for Persons with Disabilities and other pertinent laws. But notice how each sector mentioned is described in words such as senior citizens, pregnant and lactating mothers, and children, then PWDs in bold capital letters. Only persons with disabilities are described in acronyms.

For Ms. Nida Cajanap of Disabled People’s Organization-Balangiga, addressing them in person-first means respecting them and their capacities, “…because we should not be bullied, and that we are also people with innate capacities,” she shares in Waray language.

“Our disability does not define entirely who we are, so you should not put our impairments at the center,” Ms. Jane Macawile of DPO-Balangiga adds.

Even among the ranks of persons with disabilities, they have realized that importance of mentioning the entire phrase and not just the acronym. “We need to inspire the persons with disabilities to stand up for their rights, and this is one way of exercising that, recognize us as people and not for our impairments,” Leila Benaso of Special And Differently Abled Persons Of Lawaan (SDAPOL) shares.

Being sensitive in language use means respect of one’s dignity as a person. While acronyms maybe helpful in simplifying terms and ideas, it should not be used to address people. When in doubt, always remember the person-first rule, or we call them by their first names. That way, we can ensure that we are respectful and recognize their individuality as stipulated in various national laws and international agreements.

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