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Power of Words and People with Special Needs

“That’s not how I would have done it”

Now let us try saying,

“You found a new way to do it”

Just a simple switch of words and we sound so much more considerate, open-minded and supportive. In our daily lives, we get so habitual to using phrases and comments that we forget to analyze it all together.

“Words have a magical power. They can either bring the greatest happiness or the deepest despair”

- Sigmund Freud

We often tend to overlook and underestimate the words we use to communicate with people around us. Have you ever noticed your behavior automatically change when a friend / coworker said something to you because it just did not sit well with you or vice versa.

We all have different perspectives and ways of understanding information but it does not take more than a few seconds to use your words wisely and make your intentions clear. Especially to avoid confusion when communicating important information. It is crucial to take a minute before we speak to or about someone.

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought”

- George Orwell

Why do we use words?

A very simple question, yet taken for granted. A few reasons are as following:

1. To communicate our needs and wants

2. To identify people, things, places etc.

3. To build relationships and connect with others

4. To gain an understanding of our surroundings

Understanding the complexities of our words and how they impact everyone and everything around us is very powerful.

“Raise your word, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder”

- Rumi

Let’s introspect!

Think of the times and places where you needed to communicate your needs and demands. Or when you used words to identify a person. Perhaps, almost every day we come across people or things that we identify based on what we have learned overtime, consciously or unconsciously.

The big question here is do we ever ask ourselves or introspect to become better at using those learned words?

For example, hearing someone refer to an individual by the color of their skin, sounds discriminatory if you think about it, doesn’t it?

We become so used to what we hear, we forget to take a minute to improve how we present it to others in a better way.

Same applies when we talk to or about people with disabilities. Here are a few examples of what people typically might say and how we can consciously improve our approach;

1. My son is autistic

Try, My son has autism

- Because he is a boy first and his disability does not define him as a person.

2. Smita is wheelchair bound

Try, Smita uses a wheelchair

- Because she is a person who happens to use a wheelchair. She is more than just her physical accommodations.

3. Nimit cannot focus on anything

Try, Nimit is working on his attention span

- Because it could be a diagnosed/undiagnosed disability that you do not know about.

4. Sharon seizes so she is epileptic

Try, Sharon has a seizure disorder/epilepsy

- Because epilepsy is a part of who Sharon is, not what she is.

Some more references for daily use*:

People First Language: Person with a disability

Language to avoid: Disabled/Handicapped

People First Language: Person without a disability

Language to avoid: Normal person

People First Language: Person with an intellectual, cognitive, developmental disability

Language to avoid: Retarded, slow, simple, moronic, defective, afflicted

People First Language: Person with an emotional or behavioral disability, person with mental health or a psychiatric disability

Language to avoid: Insane, crazy, psycho, manic, nuts

People First Language: Person who uses a wheelchair

Language to avoid: Confined or restricted to a wheelchair, wheelchair bound

Where did it begin?

Let’s try and relate what we knew before and what we know now to improve the words used for people with disabilities. People-first* language is an approach and a change of mindset towards people with disabilities. It focuses on who people are and not what they have.* “People-first” language started to evolve with the Disability Rights movement started in the United States in the 1960's and focused on equal opportunities and rights for people across the disability spectrum.*

Today’s Takeaway

Words play a major role in how you see the world, approach people and present yourself. Always be mindful of the impact of your words on everyone around you.

Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated

Platinum Rule: Treat others the way they want to be treated

*Platinum rule coined by Dave Kerpen (Author of the book The Art of People)*

It is our prerogative to be addressed with terms that make us comfortable and the same goes for everyone else around you.

“Words can inspire and words can destroy. Choose yours well”

- Robin Sharma


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