I wrote a blog, “Time for a new story?” last November on a topic that has become a bit of an obsession. Language. You will probably not find many parents of children with special needs who aren’t aware that language matters. Just look at the support the “R-word Campaign” has built.
Every time someone uses “That word” there is a public outcry, the size of which depends on who used it and where they said it. The President used it on late-night TV (I love me some Obama but…), late night hosts use it regularly (no more Chelsea Lately for this girl after multiple offenses), comedians use it (Here we go again…the r-word)…it is everywhere and it has defenders. They didn’t mean it that way and they didn’t say it about a person with intellectual disability. They yell about “free speech,” they argue that people who are hurt or offended are to blame, they scream about “political correctness.”
What they are doing is getting defensive and, instead of acknowledging how it feels to others, they get angry or dismissive. It would be super refreshing to at least get a bit of honesty from someone who defends their usage of the word (or any of its variations.) Just to hear them say openly, “I don’t care how you or your kid feel.” To have someone own their usage, acknowledges its meaning and then just says “Fuck you, I’ll say whatever I want.” People who defend themselves and try to argue over meaning and intent just infuriate me. We all know what it means and we know how you meant it. Guess what? It still hurts and demeans, it still is meant to indicate something is lesser. If you don’t believe people still use it “that way” go to Google Images and type it in. (Here, I’ll even save you the effort: Google)
My obsession with language isn’t just about offensive words. Sometimes people who are trying to be supportive or conscious of their language fail. I fail. I’ve been “inarticulate” at times, I’ve been thoughtless at times, at times my words were meant to convey one thing but have been read a way I didn’t expect (of course, I only know this when people tell me, which I encourage.) I tried to get at the root of it with my post, “My child is not a puppet” and I think I approached it wrong. It really and truly isn’t about any one word, or even any two or three words although we all have certain words that set us on edge. “Fraggle” is obviously one of them for me.
The root of what I have been trying to say in bits and pieces is this: It’s about using language that does not hurt, insult, belittle or demean anyone. It’s about using words that don’t infantilize other people or perpetuate stereotypes. And words can do all of those things even when you mean them as a compliment or an endearment. Even when you mean well, words can hurt.
Words paint pictures.
I want you to be aware of that and be thoughtful about what pictures you are painting. Like it or not, your painting influences how people see and treat my son. It can take generations to change perceptions, so be prepared to hear a lot more on this one in the meantime. And, as the title says, I am a work in progress…I want to change the world Caleb lives in…one word, one stereotype, one false assumption at a time…but I won’t always get it right the first or maybe even the second time but I’m not going to stop trying.