Asking people to use more inclusive language is actually effective -- provided the place is a human services organization

A few weeks ago, I wrote an e-mail to the Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange about some language use in the photolistings on their site.

...I've noticed that some descriptions use language such as "never letting his mental retardation get in his way" or"despite cerebral palsy." This type of language -- the practice of "glossing over" the disability, if you will -- is considered offensive to a lot of people with disabilities and also fails to give an accurate picture of what the child can and cannot do. ... In general, this also contributes to the ableist mentality that people with disabilities only warrant discussion if the person has "overcome" their disability.

Also, I notice that some descriptions do not mention any specific disability, but rather mention, for instance, that an adolescent is making fabulous progress in school, where he is learning to use two-word sentences and write his name. While the strength-based approach is admirable, this child has a disability. To ignore this fact implies that it is taboo to clearly state that the child has a developmental disability -- this is again offensive to this child (and every other child with a disability) to not acknowledge his particular needs. ...

I received a very nice reply from Dianne Curtin, who agreed that this language should not have found its way into the descriptions and said that it would be revised. She also shared some of the agency's struggles with trying to portray the children's strengths and repsect their privacy (both of which they do beautifully, really) while also trying to be realistic.

Indeed, the same struggles we all face in this work. When we describe someone in a way we would want to be described and the way we describe our friends and family, there's always someone out there who thinks the lack of pathologizing jargon means we don't have sufficient clinical knowledge. As if respecting someone and understanding someone are somehow opposites, when they really are so intertwined.


Jodie said...

Ack! A whole lot of those profiles read just like they do on animal rescues. I'm half-expecting to read "and like to have his ears scratched..."

eeka said...

OMG. They TOTALLY do. *shudder*