Changing language to focus on the good

Stacy Hazelton

Stacy Hazelton

Have you heard about “People First Language?” As we have all experienced, conversations wrap us up quickly in thought and then catch us not knowing how to say something that would not be offensive to others. This is especially true as we become more aware of all the unique people in our communities.

People with disabilities make up just one of the minority groups in the United States. Too often, misunderstanding is the key factor in how words are used. Words can become the daggers that end up taking away the dignity and respect that is deserved by everyone, regardless of challenging and debilitating areas of one’s life.

People naturally like positive labels that are put on them throughout life: daughter, father, grandparents, cheerleader, football player, pianist, builder, caregiver, happy, social, friend and so on. However, when we attach descriptive words that give a negative, sick or less than acceptable image, for instance — behavior problem, bully, slacker, idiot, drug addict, retarded — it doesn’t matter what the person’s positive labels are, their image is tainted.

So, what are the common words that many of us struggle with? And, how do we change our language to focusing on the person and their good qualities, rather than the damaging words.

Try these statements below and bring more acceptance into our communities by using your words to build up, not tear down people with disabilities:

“People with challenges,” instead of “Handicapped children/adults.”

“He works slower on some things,” instead of “He’s mentally retarded.”

“My child communicates differently because of autism,” instead of “My autistic child.”

“She has a physical disability,” instead of “That’s a crippled person.”

“Our beautiful daughter struggles with making the wrong choices,” instead of “She’s a bad kid.”

“Intervention service is helping my child learn,” instead of “Special Ed. is where my child goes.”

These are just a few of the easiest ways to make small changes to include all people in our communities. Just remember to ask yourself, what positive labels do I want people referring to me as? Those are the same I need to see and say for all people in my community.

Stacy Hazelton, MEd, is a public relations specialist for the Highland County Board of DD.

Stacy Hazelton Hazelton