Wednesday, July 9, 2008

THISability

Politically correct language has never been a sore spot for me the way it is for many people. While I understand the rationale behind people-first language, the focus can be more on the wording instead of the intent.

During my speaking engagements, I put a disclaimer up front that I do not always use ‘the right language’ because it changes all the time. Plus, I don’t want people to be so concerned about mixing up words that their focus is diverted from our interaction.

On the other hand, labels do provide insight into the speaker’s perceptions. I notice my own wording changes depending on the subject matter. Most of the time, self-descriptions include disabled, ‘I have C.P.”, and even ‘handicapped’ (occasionally) when presenting myself. I will ask friends if they told so-and-so I have C.P. before they meet me, mostly out of consideration for the other person. There aren’t many adults with C.P. walking around so exposure to someone like me cannot be assumed.

My wording changes when I am feeling particularly self-conscious and insecure. For instance, I am baffled by my friends’ understanding, patience, and love for me. I am not the easiest person to get along with, although (through healthy relationships) I am getting much better at letting people in - removing walls of protection. When discussing my social life, I have told close friends how I don’t know why I have so many friends - the only thing I can ration is they use me as a ‘community service’ project or volunteer experience, writing “friends with a crippled girl” on their resume. (Ultimately, I know these friendships are from God, having nothing to do with any merit on my part, but that is another issue...)

With all things considered, as a society, we tend to have a glass-half-empty mentality. Labeling me as disabled versus individual with a disability is really synonymous as both focus on my ‘flaw’. Yes, I walk and talk differently from the norm - but there are so many more positive, ‘un-flawed’ components that become negated by the word ‘disability’. Why can’t we focus on people’s abilities? Every individual has unique skills and talents no matter their level of disability. It could be something as simple - yet exceptional- as being a loyal secret-keeper or always making people feel welcomed when they enter the room.

Imagine a world of optimism and ‘glass-half-full mentalities’, a world of acceptance and compassion, where differences are valued. The change begins in our heart, not in our words. Change the heart and the words change along with intent.

The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. - Luke 6:45

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