Why language matters
How do words inform our practice as educators, support people, family members, and friends?
Saying a person "refuses" to do something focuses on compliance. It frames the person in a negative light and makes assumptions about their intentions.
Saying a person "chooses" to do or not do something focuses on self-determination, autonomy, and decision-making. It is a starting point for collaborative conversations.
How about when someone with a disability gets a job? We have a choice in how we describe this, too ... "Sam earned a job" vs. "Sam was given a job" ... in which scenario does Sam have power and autonomy? Which description assumes Sam didn't actually earn the job?
We inadvertently make assumptions, ignore autonomy, misinform those around us, and model disrespectful language every day. How can we do better?
Give power to the person:
Sam earned their job
Take power from the person:
Sam was given their job
Use choice-oriented words:
Alex chose or decided to not sit next to Sam
Focus on compliance:
Alex refused to sit next to Sam
Use action-oriented words:
Taylor left the group to explore
Focus on outdated ideas:
Use relationally appropriate terms:
My students have extensive support needs
Use relationally inappropriate terms:
My friends or pals or buddies have extensive support needs
Use chronologically appropriate terms:
I support adults with disabilities OR
I support disabled adults
My buddy or pal has a disability OR
My buddy or pal is disabled
Talk to people:
Harper, what do you want for lunch?
Talk about people:
What does Harper want for lunch?
There are many, many other examples of how to use thoughtful, intentional language in order to respect and empower others. Modeling language for others is the most powerful way to make change in this area - rather than lecturing someone, show them how it's done!
“Language is power, in ways more literal than most people think. When we speak, we exercise the power of language to transform reality. Why don't more of us realize the connection between language and power?” – Julia Penelope