A perspective on the world of disability from a mother and an educator. Follow my blog!

Friday, 24 May 2013

Words that go bump in the night.

Life in the world of a marginalised minority has the blessing of opening your eyes to something which can be truly beautiful. Life is a slower pace in Holland and the joy in that is you get to see all the little things as triumphs, things most others would take for granted. I can remember the day my big girl first used a pincer grip to pick up a sultana, the first time she stood on her own (incidentally also the time the OT slapped my hands away because my first reaction was to reach out and 'catch' her). I remember the first time she used an adverb in context.

While there can be beauty and blessings in this life, it should not be one that is marginalised, yet it is. I know I've written about language before, but words are not just my living (so many funding applications, curriculum documents, workshops, meetings with staff/parents/case workers), but words create the context in which my daughter, my family, my students and I exist. Speaking with a friend and colleague who was identifying a family at school she had been talking to, she named the parent, the child, then went on the qualify that he 'IS Aspergers or something like that'. I was already aware of a diagnosis, it is my job after all. But for this teacher to use it as a defining feature of who this boy is and who his family is, is at the heart of the problem.

I am confident that this boy is a wonderful son, he's a great big brother. He has talents, strengths, weaknesses and is a complex individual. Using a diagnosis as THE defining feature about him, the first thing anybody should know about him, how he is introduced in every situation is what will marginalise him. It says that he is 'other': Not the same as the rest of us. Before you know anything else about him or his family, you need to know it in the context of him having a diagnosis.

At work this week I was to give a brief workshop to the staff about IEPs. Due to the delights of technology (my Prezi was so much more inspiring than any old PowerPoint!) I didn't get to do my workshop so instead I took 10 or so minutes to get on my high horse about PC language. I didn't cry when I recalled some of the things that have been said to me about my daughter so I consider the event a personal win.

The point of my rant is that language we use is a display of the attitudes we hold. It signifies to all what is on our minds and in our hearts. If the language we uses highlights stereotypes and generalisations, it shows we do not consider a person to be a unique individual, a characteristic we would bestow upon those who don't have a label or diagnosis.

It also impacts on the way we view families. If the defining feature about the family is the one individual with a diagnosis, we reduce those around them to little more than carers. Please don't get me wrong, I'm not saying those who are carers aren't amazing people, but they are more than 'simply' or 'only' carers. Just like the person/child with the diagnosis, those around them are unique individuals who have more attributes than being related or connected to someone who is 'other'.

Words have such power, whether spoken or written. Words have the power to create and the power to destroy. What a dream it would be for words to create a world where there was no 'other'.