ParaCheer International CIO promotes the use of inclusive language as part of our objectives to support the inclusion of all athletes regardless of impairment, gender, sexuality, ethnicity or other relevant protected characteristic. We've created this page to help you as athletes and coaches do so too.
Origin of the word “ParaCheer”
The term ParaCheer was coined by Karl Olsen in 2012 when describing a partner stunt duo who had a wheelchair using base (our founder Rick Rodgers to be exact). Many people think it has its roots in the concept of wheelchair use and disability because of the term Paralysis but in fact it has a different basis. The term Para as a prefix has many meanings, including: alongside of, beside, near, resembling, beyond, and apart from. As with the Paralympics (alongside the Olympics) the prefix “para” in the word ParaCheer means alongside of and resembling cheer. It’s distinct in it’s own right having a slightly different rule set and focus but it is very much part of cheer and part of the whole. The word is nothing to do with the concept of paralysis or disability in any specific terms. We wanted to clear that up as it has left a few confused in the past.
As you may already be aware, some athletes on your team may have had a negative experience with certain words and terms being used in a derogatory way or being inaccurate descriptions of their daily lives. Though you or other athletes have no intention to upset any one, words that are in common use may be much more triggering to those with certain types of disability, so we have created a terminology sheet to help you avoid any unnecessary upset. We have found that an open mind, a clear intention to adapt, and a willingness to be corrected, if you do use a term that someone finds upsetting, are the best ways to do this, but following the suggestions below can really help prevent any issues.
Collective terms and labels
The word ‘disabled’ is a description not a group of people. You can use ‘disabled people’ rather than ‘the disabled’ as the collective term, but for the purpose of a ParaCheer team we feel that there is little need to separate the disabled athletes from your non-disabled athletes in your group speak, so “my team” is even better.
Many deaf people whose first language is BSL consider themselves part of ‘the deaf community’ – they may describe themselves as ‘Deaf’, with a capital D, to emphasise their deaf identity.
We would advise avoiding medical labels. They say little about people as individuals and tend to reinforce stereotypes of disabled people as ‘patients’ or unwell. This is part of what is known as ‘the medical model of disability’ and unhelpful in cheerleading.
The UK government have set out a list of guidelines that we at ParaCheer International agree are appropriate terminology along with words to avoid. Below is what they have to say about Inclusive language. Their original guidelines can be found by following this link.
Please note these terms and words are based on UK best practice and may differ in other countries including those with English as their main language such as America, Canada and Australia. Not everyone will agree on everything but there is general agreement on some basic guidelines.
Words to use and avoid
We recommend avoiding passive, victim words and instead suggest you use language that respects your disabled athletes as active individuals with control over their own lives.
Adaptations – Changes to a technique or method to work within someone's
capabilities and consider their impairment.
Base Support – An athlete, usually non-disabled, who works to assist and support a disabled athlete as part of their adaptations.
Classification – the act or process of dividing things into groups according to their type. For ParaCheer athletes their classification is the level to which their impairment effects their ability to participate in cheerleading activities in a typical fashion.
Disabled – We consider a person disabled if they have a substantial and long-term impairment, which affects their day-to-day functions and that has lasted 6 months and is expected to last longer than 9 months.
Disability – A social construct that identifies any restriction or lack of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered “typical” for a human being given environments that are constructed for and by the dominant or “typical” person.
Discrimination – Inequitable actions carried out by members of a dominant group or its representatives against members of a marginalized or minoritised group.
Clearaway – a cradle thrown to a set of spotters of alternate bases because the initial base has a mobility impairment making it unsafe for them to catch the cradle.
Impairment – The factor which causes a person’s status as a disabled person. An impairment can be any health condition, illness, injury or event of birth or genetics which means the person cannot carry out their day-to-day activities in what is generally considered a typical fashion.
Invisible disabilities – An impairment that though substantial, isn't obvious or doesn't affect the person’s physical appearance. Many disabilities are not visible at first glance. Though the person may not look injured or different to others, there may still be factors in that person’s life, which affect their day-to-day functioning.
Inclusion – The idea that everyone should be able to take part in the same activities and use the same facilities.
Integrated – Disabled and non-disabled people working together as one / combined to form a single team.
A note on the term “able-bodied”
Many people consider the term able-bodied to signify those without disabilities. It is now however considered to be an inappropriate and rather derogatory term considering its wider connotations. As “disabled” has such varied meaning, there is little need to have a second specific term for those without disabilities, referring to them as “non-disabled” or “without disabilities” is enough. Additionally, and especially considering the likely capabilities of the athletes you have on your teams, the term able-bodied being used exclusively for those without disabilities is grammatically incorrect and suggests that the disabled athletes aren’t capable independent people. Your athletes both disabled and non-disabled will likely be able to lift other people, turn tumbles and dance like super stars. They are likely way more ‘able of body’ than a large portion of the non-disabled non-athletic national population regardless of whether they make adaptations due to their impairment.