Telling people which words to use is tricky at best, and rude and insensitive at worst. At a very young age we choose the words we use and the way we speak to emulate and impress those we find important. It starts with parents and siblings, and changes to our friends and groups with which we want to identify. When you correct someone you are not only criticizing the speaker, but all the people he/she emulates, including parents, siblings, and friends. Words are an important part of who we are.
As painful as it may be for us to be corrected, or to correct others, think (knowing how important words can be to people), how devastating it would be to hear people you respect use words that are degrading. Think how hard it would be to hear people talk about you as though you’re helpless or dangerous every day. Think about how we use words to draw lines between ourselves and others. We might not realize we do this, and we might not realize it has lasting negative impacts on people we support, but why do we take a pill while the people we support receive a med pass? Why do we get to go to the store while the people we support go on an outing? Why do we get upset while the people we support have a behavior?
We may not realize it, but when we differentiate our language we draw lines and we prevent people from holding the same place in our minds as our friends and family. We need to be careful to use words that are not only fair and respectful, but also that send the message that those we support are our equals. The men and women we support do not need unique words just because they require a different kind of support than we might need. There is no telling which must come first; do we need to see people as our equals before we can speak appropriately, or do we need to speak appropriately before we will see people as our equals? As tricky as changing the words we use might be, it is certainly something we can do right now to impact the people around us.
How do we change the words we use?
It is not easy to change the words we use. You can’t just remove a word from your head. People who embrace the support ideal (instead of the care ideal) use the word care on a daily basis. The only way to fix this is to rewrite the appropriate word over the undesirable word, and unfortunately, this takes constant effort. You must correct yourself EVERY TIME you use the undesirable word. You must make a new habit… but be careful, there’s no telling what the next appropriate word will be. Get ready to adapt.