Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Words Have Power: There Is a Certain Etiquette or Social Code That Has Developed concerning the Words and Phrases That Can and Should Be Used in Conversations with and about Individuals in the Special Needs Community

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Words Have Power: There Is a Certain Etiquette or Social Code That Has Developed concerning the Words and Phrases That Can and Should Be Used in Conversations with and about Individuals in the Special Needs Community

Article excerpt

Often, the words that a person uses in talking with, or about an individual with a disability, affect not only the individual's perception of the person speaking them, but also the individual's perception of themselves--their "self esteem." And a healthy self-esteem is, according to Inside MS, the magazine published by the National MS Society, a "vital part of living life to the fullest."

Most individuals with disabilities would agree with this assessment. Friendly or positive words and discourse can often make their day, while words or conversation that a disabled person perceives to be derogatory, or as invoking pity, can ruin their week.

Such feelings are often amplified in children with special needs who lack the life experience, social skills or sophistication to ignore or brush off the impact of hurtful words, as an individual living with a disability might have learned to do over a lifetime.

At a tender age, including the elementary school through high-school years, the wrong words can cause in children feelings of inadequacy, of being very alone, that they don't fit in, or that they are stupid.

THE R-WORD

March 6th marked the annual awareness day for the "Spread the Word to End the Word" campaign, designed to eradicate the R-word from our vocabulary. The R-Word is a euphemism for retard and retarded, offensive words that have too often been used to describe a person with cognitive or intellectual disabilities. For instance, in the recent movie Tropic Thunder, starring Ben Stiller and Robert Downey, Jr., the word "retard" was repeatedly used both in the film and as part of its promotional materials to describe an actor portraying a person with intellectual disabilities.

The use of the R-Word in the movie was rightfully attacked by advocates of people with disabilities as offensive and disrespectful hate speech equivalent to other minority slurs and sparked the "Spread the Word to End the Word" campaign.

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DISABILITY ETIQUETTE

There is a certain etiquette or social code that has developed concerning the words and phrases that can and should be used in conversations with and about individuals in the special needs community. The following terminology is representative of language that is generally considered acceptable; it is contrasted with language that is considered insulting or degrading. The words are from The Glossary of Acceptable and Unacceptable Disability Terms contained on the Spinal Injury Network web-site (http://www.spinalinjury.net):

Acceptable: Person with a disability.

Unacceptable: Cripple, cripples - the image conveyed is of a twisted, deformed, useless body.

Acceptable: Disability, a general term used for functional limitation that interferes with a person's ability, for example, to walk, hear or lift. It may refer to a physical, mental or sensory condition.

Unacceptable: Handicap, handicapped person or handicapped.

Acceptable: People with cerebral palsy, people with spinal cord injuries.

Unacceptable: Cerebral palsied, spinal cord injured, etc. Never identify people solely by their disability.

Acceptable: Person who has had a spinal cord injury, polio, a stroke, etc., or a person who has multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, arthritis, etc. …

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