victim / sufferer (disabilities and illnesses)Last updated
Not every person with a disability or illness will feel that they are or have been a “victim.” Using the term can carry a negative connotation, as some people may feel neutral about their condition or accept it. Choosing the word “victim” for others, and saying they have done something “despite being” a victim, implies that every person with a disability will view their experience or body as “less than” and makes assumptions about a person’s quality of life that are not necessarily accurate.
Similarly, a person with a disability may not view their experience as one of suffering. “Has” or “lives with” to describe a person’s disability avoids making assumptions about how someone views their disability. Following the person’s preferred terminology whenever possible aligns your framing with their lived experience.
It might feel normal to say “I’m sorry to hear that” when a person discloses a disability or illness. However, such a reaction may carry an assumption about how “bad” their current experience is. Use your judgment: If a person describes themselves or their experiences in neutral terms (“I have a chronic illness,” “I’ve had a disability for a few years”), it may not be appropriate to express sympathy.
The term “victim” should be used with caution in the context of people with disabilities. Following the person’s preferred terminology whenever possible aligns your framing with their lived experience.