What’s In A Name?

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label jars

What’s in a name? Well, for one thing it’s how our language identifies things like people, places and objects. Words have the power to create pictures in our mind. Depending on our experiences, beliefs and concepts, we automatically pre-judge. For instance if you are told the word “horse” many would come up with a completely different picture of one. In addition, emotional response would also be varied based on your experiences and what you have been told about horses. Words even have the power to affect us physically. Think of sinking your teeth into a juicy sour lemon and you get the picture.

When using words to communicate we may intend one concept while the receiver is forming another. This phenomenon seems to happen a lot in politics wouldn’t you say? So, how do you say exactly what you mean? One way is to use   correct descriptions and shy away from slang. We have all heard the jokes about the latest “politically correct” terms for various cultures, jobs, life events and so on. I admit they can get pretty absurd when taken to the extreme but there are reasons they exist nonetheless. Using descriptive words in a careless way can destroy not only a persons self image but whole cultures that are already struggling to hold their position of equality. The disability culture is a good example. In the past society saw them as weak, sick and helpless. Some still adhere to this misconception.

This false picture was, in most part, created from images that portrayed pity and limited expectations. The disability community constantly attempts to educate society on the destructive affects of negative language.

Listed below are typical terms that have a negative meaning because of their tendency to label a person as their disability. Listed under the negative language are examples of words that are degrading and produce erroneous images. The “words with dignity” under each group give more dignity and a much clearer concept of what you are communicating.Negative Meaning

Crippled man, blind woman, polio victim, epileptic, Cerebral palsied

Words With Dignity

Make reference to the person first, then the disability. If the disability is not the focus of the conservation don’t mention it. Crippled and victim should never be used to describe a person with a disability.

Negative Meaning


Words With Dignity

 The term “handicapped” is derived from the image of a person standing on the corner with cap in hand begging for money. People with disabilities do not want charity. They want an equal access to their community.

Negative Meaning

 Wheel chair bound or confined to a wheel chair

Words With Dignity

 People are not tied or bound to their wheel chairs nor are they confined to them 24 hours a day. They are used for transportation, therefore, people are wheel chair users.

Negative Meaning

 Invalid, victim, afflicted with

Words With Dignity

 A person with a disability is not necessarily sick or unhealthy. They are often just disabled. The word invalid is actually saying the person is in – valid which I’m sure is not the intended concept you are trying to say.

As you say the words in the negative group observe the image your mind produces. Like it or not they create a reaction just as surely as that sour, juicy lemon. Everyone has the power to change society’s negative language and labels by refusing to use them. Change is difficult and you may wonder why bother? Because, if someone hadn’t bothered, the Webster definition for wife would be “ old lady” and we would all be professing our vows with “I take this dude to be my lawful wedded old man.” That conjures up a picture doesn’t it?

If you have made a commitment this year to improve your world try using more considerate language. It is a small personal change that has the power to impact the world in a giant way.

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