Words Matter

A crucial ongoing conversation for those whose lives are improved by the presence of individuals with disabilities is the critical evaluation of the language we use. I imagine we are all familiar with People First Language and are also well beyond the use of the “r-word”. We have Jane Lynch’s work within the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign to thank for bringing national attention to this concept.

Once, the word “retarded” was a precise medical definition with appropriate clinical and educational value. Over time, the term was adopted in mainstream society with negative connotations. What was once acceptable is no longer relevant due to the evolution of our language. We will continue to evaluate our language and adjust as necessary. For many years, the term ‘special needs’ has been deemed appropriate. More recently, individuals with Down Syndrome have suggested that their needs are the same as the rest of society and are ‘human needs,’ in rejection of the term; see video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNMJaXuFuWQ&t=40s

The conversation about words is necessary, crucial, and complicated. My default setting is to listen to the voices of those most impacted by my word choice for guidance in greater awareness of how I affect others.