Grab a cuppa and a comfy seat, and let’s chat a while! It’s time for Coffee and Conversation!
When I was six, my family was driving on a highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living lives as important to them as mine was to me.
I wanted to know what those lives were, and to share my own..
Click the image to read a RDAP post!
Today, I’m participating once again in Rose B. Fischer’s Redefining Disability Awareness Project. This is a post I meant to share last week, but an abscessed tooth and a swollen face waylaid my plans – I ended up with an emergency dental appointment instead.
But I’m on the mend now, so, without further ado, here it is:
This post is a response and elaboration on my September RDAP post, Disabled Characters: Descriptor, or Definition. In the comments, Rose pointed out that I often used the phrase ‘disabled character’, and that this drew attention to the very thing I was discussing in the post – seeing the characters first as people…people whose disabilities were facts of their lives, but not necessarily the focal point of their stories, and sometimes never even referenced directly.
I try to be aware of the words I use. I’ve worked with and for a number of people with various health and ability challenges, at all ages from infants to the very elderly. I am the mother of a child who died at the age of 12 days, as the result of a profound brain injury at birth. I do not want him reduced to that diagnosis…he was a beautiful, robust baby boy with dark hair that tended toward red, and the wisest, most accepting eyes I have ever seen. He is my child, just as his more typically abled siblings are.
Yes, he was a person!
And yet, when I wrote a post I intended to be accepting and to raise awareness – I labeled all those characters under a big umbrella marked Disabled.
I took some of their personhood away – and I hadn’t meant to do that. Not at all.
Honestly, it gave me a sick little knot in my middle. I don’t like being insensitive, even accidentally. I debated changing the title of the post, and suggested to Rose that I might. But she said it was better to leave it, and, much as it bothers me to have my gaffe a part of the Permanent Record, so to speak, I agree.
There’s value to the discussion we had in the comments, where Rose shared a thought-provoking link on this subject. If you want to learn more, I highly recommend People First Language, and the entire Disability is Natural site.
Names matter. The language we use matters – it both details and shapes our thoughts, and therefore our actions and our lives. From there, it affects every life yours touches…
It might not seem like a big deal – but try this little experiment with me, if you would.
I’m guessing it brought up some thoughts and emotions and mental images. You might think it’s about time, an abomination, or just not something you’re inclined to give much thought to.
Do you notice a change? If you consider yourself against what you feel from the first phrase, or for it- does the second resonate differently? Does it sound more like something that belongs in a nation whose base tenet is that all are equal under the law?
It can be hard to focus on a universal issue like equality, if we’re stuck on labeling – and even more so when the label marks the labeled as ‘other'; not like us.
We are all who we are- and worthy of being seen as the people we are. Poetry credit: Annalise S. Burton, age 9.
By using the phrase ‘disabled characters’, I was making those characters into a set defined by their disabilities – even though their disabilities were seldom the focal point of their stories. I set them apart from my other characters, the ones who are more typically abled. And I did it while I was advocating for their equality.
That’s not such a big deal with fictional characters in one blog post, maybe – but it happens to real people in the real world, too. That’s a much bigger deal.
What words are we choosing when you speak of people with physical, mental, or emotional differences? Are we minimizing them, or marginalizing?
It doesn’t need to be intentional to hurt someone, or to imply that they are less than.
I’m setting an intention today, in this post. I will be listening to myself, to the language I choose, and the thoughts it reveals. I’ve done this before – when we began unschooling, part of making a huge paradigm shift in my way of seeing children and the world was to shift my language and my perceptions.
I might miss the mark, sometimes. I’m hoping I will notice it myself, when I do, so that I can intentionally backtrack and find a better way of expressing whatever I was trying to say. If I don’t, I hope someone will call me on it, like Rose did last month, so that I can re-evaluate, consider, and correct. I know I won’t be perfect; and I know that I’m going to learn a great deal along the way.
Will you join me? I’ll bring out the refreshments, and we can learn People First language together, which will make things even sweeter, all around, for all people!