Whether it’s out of the brokenness within our human nature or simply how we as humankind categorize and identify the world around us, we tend to identify others first by how they are different from us as though the difference is most relevant. This happens far too often in the area of special needs. We mention a person’s disability or diagnosis even when it’s not relevant to the conversation. For example, if you are recommending a hairstylist who happens to have ADHD or a prosthetic leg, mentioning the disability isn’t really relevant to their skill as a hairstylist. That fact is neither relevant nor respectful. A simple guide for the future is to ask yourself, “Is this information really relevant to the conversation?”
When describing a person who has a disability, the descriptors we choose can be thoughtful or hurtful. Here are some more thoughtful alternatives to use when describing a disability:
Words can be one of the most powerful ways in communicating dignity to each other. When it comes to the area of special needs, always put the person before the diagnosis. For example, rather than saying, “special needs people,” say “people with special needs.” This kind of person-first phrasing can give dignity to a person with special needs. Also, whenever you are able, use their name. You would rather be known by your name than by your haircut or shoes. No one wants to be known as “the balding man” or “the long-legged lady.” Next week’s article will get a little more in depth on this subject.