Tuesday, January 18, 2011

People First

The words we choose can really hurt, even when we don't mean them to.  Sometimes they might hurt just a little but words paint pictures and they can easily paint the wrong ones. 

I work with people who have a developmental disability.  I'm very careful to put it that way because they are people first.  Just like I am a person with diabetes rather than a diabetic.  It's a little thing but it's a big thing.

Anyway, that's what I do.  I am well aware of how the words I choose can make a difference.  An email discussion started yesterday between a co-worker and I.  I really respect her because she makes me think and constantly challenges me.  So she opened a can of worms and got me thinking about the language we use at work.

She mentioned the term 'front line'.  People who work directly with a person with a developmental disability are often called a front line staff.  I hate that term and so does she.  She told me of an exercise she does sometimes to challenge people.  She asks them to google 'front line' and see if the pictures that come up accurately represent the work that we do.  I think not. 

The problem is that we've developed a way of talking when we are at work and we would never talk that way in our personal lives.  When I get up in the morning, I shower, brush my teeth and get ready for work.  I would never say that I complete my hygiene routine and then go to my paid employment placement. 

I go out with my friends, I don't go on outings with my peer group. 

I get angry and upset, I don't exhibit behaviours or become verbally aggressive.

And, trust me, when I feel angry and upset, I don't need to be de-escalated. 

Language is all about respect.  Yet too often, we have a language for people who are like us and a language for people who are different.  All that does is highlight the differences. 

We are people first.

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