Friday, November 19, 2004

Just to say..

I found this excellent article (scroll down a bit if you're short of time) about language and disability - a regular topic of discussion in my work. I'm not a fan of political correctness for the sake of it, and anyone using the phrase 'differently abled' within fifty feet of me, let alone about me should beware.

I do think though that changing language is a sign of changing understanding of issues. When I started my current job as an equalities trainer I felt very strongly that I shouldn't talk about language, because if I explained things properly then those participating (who are almost always voluntary participants and as a consequence in general enthusiastic and tuned in) would 'get it' automatically. I was soon disabused of this theory when I would still be questioned about language and phrasing during the sessions. I also found that in discussing language other helpful issues came out - such as in many situations lots of people from so called minority groups might have difficulty, or that in describing people as people with visual impairment rather than blind people can be helpful as it works as a reminder that very few people are actually completely unable to see, and most have some sight which is useful in the right environment.
I really do believe language matters. I don't think its something to worry about immensely - and it does vary between countries (even English speaking countries) and it will develop over time. When someone says that it shouldn't matter, I think that means they don't care. It isn't hard to find out what appropriate language might be - and taking a little care makes all the difference.
For what its worth - my general advice is - find out how someone wants to be described if you want to talk about an individual (wheelchair user, please) use the words disability and people in a general sentence - I prefer disabled people personally, but mostly avoid things beginning with 'the' or including 'handicapped' which is offensive to many.
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