Dear World, Why The Language We Use Is So Important.
My entire life I have always been a reader, a writer, a consumer of all things literary. I’m sure I always cared about words and the language we use much more than my peers always; words are weapons, and they are powerful.
Based on the power of words alone, we are all superheroes or villains, depending on if you use your powers for good or for evil.
If you think about it, so often throughout our day there are so many people we encounter in which we only utter a sentence too; and in that sentence, you have the chance to change their entire day for the better. If you use your powers correctly.
During my teen years and now in my young adult life, I’m amazed at how careless we are with our words. Especially in the age of social media when it is so easy to forget that there is a person on the other end of your words. Now more than ever, we throw words around as if they have no meaning.
But see, I grew up with a disability and the way my parents choose to approach it and the language they used, I have no doubt — shaped every part of my adult life.
The word “disability” what does it mean? Well, the prefix “dis” is a latin term meaning “to have a negative force” “ability” means that you have the capability to do something; physically, mentally, etc. And when you look up disability in the dictionary it says “lack of power, strength, physical or mental ability, inadequate.”
Is that REALLY the kind of language you want to use to describe your child?
My best guess is no. I was very fortunate in that respect. I’m going to credit my mother and say that she was very aware of the power of language and the effect that words can have on people. I mean, have you ever hand someone’s small, maybe sly comment ruin your WHOLE day? When you have a disability, it’s like that all the time, so many people are constantly doubting you, excluding you, and telling you what you can and cannot do; had you been raised with that kind of mindset, you just might believe them.
I was very lucky. I knew what Cerebral Palsy was and could example it to anyone who may ask since I could talk. I knew I had limits and boundaries, but I also knew that it was safe to test them and that the only way I would know my REAL limits was if I did. We never used the words “disability” or “disabled” while I was growing up. We referred to my disability by name and dealt with any issues I may have had as if they weren’t related to my diagnosis.
I really think this saved my self-esteem as a child and boosted my confidence as an adult. Often times, I forget that I’m disabled even now when I use a wheelchair most of the time. I get confused at the sideways looks people give me when I am not in my wheelchair and sometimes the questions people ask me when I am out and about strike me as odd. On more than one occasion, I have really had to stop and think about what they are asking and why.
I didn’t and don’t especially now in the age of the internet feel like this deprived me of a part of my identity. Actually, if I am honest — the real identity crisis came when I began applying for colleges and using the terms “disability” and “disabled” was something I HAD to do in an effort to be politically correct. I felt offended by them and I didn’t feel like I identified with them at all! I felt forced into using them and they felt wrong to me. I felt as though I was using words fit for someone else who needed them more…
I wish there was some grand way to end this article, some huge life lesson I could give to everyone reading. I’m just hoping this can be one of those lead by example stories and the next time you approach anyone — disabled or not, stranger on the street or your best friend. You think about the way you treat them and the language you use.
You never know who is listening…