Thursday, March 23, 2006

Part II: What to say, What to say....

People-First Language -- It's what we should all use when talking to or about someone else, but most importantly, when we are talking about persons with differing abilities. This doesn't mean we're jumping onto the "Politically Correct" bandwagon, it simply means we are opening our lives and vocubularies to be inclusive of others, regardless of our place in society.

Below are some examples of more inclusive speech:

Say: People with disabilities.
Instead of: The handicapped or disabled.
(See my earlier post for an explanation and links to their histories.)

Say: S/he has a cognitive disability/diagnosis.
Instead of: S/he's mentally retarded/retarded/slow, etc.

Say: S/he has austism (or a diagnosis of...)
Instead of: S/he's autistic.

Say: S/he has Down Syndrome (or a diagnosis of...)
Instead of: He's Down's; a Down's person; He's got Down's

Say: S/he has a learning disability (diagnosis).
Instead of: S/he's learning disabled.

Say: S/he has a physical disability (diagnosis).
Instead of: S/he’s a quadriplegic/is crippled.
Sometimes, when talking about a specific person, referencing their actual disability will need to be done, but most often, much like someone's race or sexual orientation, it's just not needed.

Say: S/he’s of short stature/she’s a little person.
Instead of: S/he’s a dwarf/midget.

Say: S/he has a mental health diagnosis.
Instead of: S/he’s emotionally disturbed/mentally ill/insane.

Say: S/he uses a wheelchair/mobility chair.
Instead of: S/he’s confined to/is wheelchair bound.
I want to take a minute and address this specifically to ask: At what point in a persons life who uses a wheelchair are they *confined*? Are they strapped in, unable to get out out all? Are they held in the chair against their will? Or are they more likely to get themselves out of their chair, into the shower, onto the toilet, into bed or maybe even into their car? This is what we mean when refuting the *confinement* stance because a person who uses a wheelchair is not confined at all, but merely uses it to get around in a world where easy mobility is a must.

Say: S/he receives special ed services.
Instead of: S/he’s in special ed.

Say: S/he has a developmental delay.
Instead of: S/he’s developmentally delayed/retarded/slow on the uptake, etc.

Say: Children without disabilities.
Instead of: Normal or healthy children.
Who gets to define "normal" and/or "healthy"?

Say: Communicates with his/her eyes/device/etc.
Instead of: S/he is non-verbal/mute/stupid, etc.

Say: Customer
Instead of: Client, consumer, recipient, etc.
(I've seen a lot of doctors referring to them as patients and many of the Occupational and Physical Therapists we train use Client.)

Say: Congenital disability
Instead of: Birth defect/Born retarded/Born mentally retarded

Say: Brain injury
Instead of: Brain damaged

Say: Accessible bathroom, parking, hotel room, etc.
Instead of: Handicapped bathroom, parking, hotel room, etc.
To those of you who consistently use the "handicapped" stall in the bathroom when there are plenty others to choose from: shame on you! To those of you who have the "fake handicapped stickers" hanging from your rearview mirror: shame on you!

Many times I tried finding a van accessible spot to park for my grandmother when she was alive, only to realize that each and every space had been taken up by those with the stickers in their mirrors. I argue that unless you have a genuinely sincere problem walking from a parking lot, give up the sticker.

Say: She needs... or she uses...
Instead of: She has problems/special needs.
Because needing canes, walkers and wheelchairs in order to access the community wouldn't be a *special need* if it weren't for our ablist society. Think about it.

Say: S/he has austism/spina bifida/cerebral palsy
Instead of: suffers from/stricken with/inflicted with
Only someone shot or beaten *suffers* from their injuries. There are some chronic conditions that do cause suffering, such as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Disorder or Chronic Pain Syndrome, but using these terms makes it sound as if they were to take a particular vitamin, they'd be cured. (And yes, I had to yank these words out of my vocabulary when talking about persons with varying abilities, too.)

**Special Note: Saying the word "retarded" to otherwise mean stupid or wrong is the equivalent of saying the word "gay" as an adjective for the way another person looks, dresses or acts.

Bad Ex: "Senator Haverty is retarded, why can't he understand that women and only women should choose what to do with their bodies?"

Don't say it, that's all there is to it.

In Virginia, a diagnosis of Mental Retardation is needed in order to get services for children and adults with varying health care needs. Even then, my wonderful state makes families jump through hoops, the latest being a United States Supreme Court case that agreed with Virginia Public Schools: parents have the burden of proof when schools refuse to comply to the American's with Disabilities Act of 1997 and, most importantly, when the schools are in non-compliance with their child's IEP (Individual Education Program).

Currently Virginia is 49th out of 51 states (including DC). Governor Warner was slowly trying to change that, but a Republican controlled Senate and House has made it difficult.