When I was running for the SA City Council, my biggest issue was the outrageous employment benefits given to the police/fire. One of my friends suggested on multiple occasions that I soften this criticism at candidate forums by first describing the appreciation I felt for the people who staff these first-responder positions. But in the heat of a stump speech, I invariably failed to soften my spiel and instead cut right to the chase – i.e., the police/fire unions were taking advantage of the city.
My tendency to cut to the chase manifested itself again today on Facebook when I criticized a poster from a state senator calling for more respectful language. Senator Zaffirini proposed:
- WISH MORE PERSONS USED RESPECTFUL LANGUAGE. This includes not describing a person by a condition, illness, or disability and not joking about them. Examples follow:
- Say, “the person who is blind,” NOT “the blind person.”
- Say, “the patient with diabetes,” NOT “the diabetic patient.”
- Say, “the student with an intellectual disability,” and do NOT use the “R” word.
- Say, “the person under guardianship,” NOT “the ward.”
- Do NOT say, “I’m having a senior moment” or “My Alzheimer’s must be kicking-in.” Such conditions are serious and certainly not humorous for those who have them (or their loved ones).
- Do NOT say, “She drank until she was cross-eyed” or “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” Such statements demean persons who have strabismus or one eye.
If I had learned a lesson from my friend, I might have first said something nice to the senator about being respectful and even noted that I had recently learned that autistic kids (sic) sometimes take “mainstream classes,” not “normal classes.” But instead I cut right to the chase:
- “I think most of these examples are unnecessary tweaks that produce stilted speech. What’s wrong with “ward”? I agree with the so-called “R” word, but didn’t realize that the term had been become so bad that it can’t be spelled out in polite society.”
Senator Zaffirini responded – “Mike: Indeed, the “R” word is anathema among all of us who champion the needs and interests of persons with intellectual disabilities. Using “ward” is like calling a person “chattel.””
Following this exchange, I did a bit more research and learned that the senator’s suggestion were based on a new strategy in the disability community to encourage the use of “people-first language.” According to Syracuse University Disability Center:
- “People-first” or “person-first” language is a way of describing disability that involves putting the word “person” or “people” before the word “disability” or the name of a disability, rather than placing the disability first and using it as an adjective. Some examples of people-first language might include saying “person with a disability,” “woman with cerebral palsy,” and “man with an intellectual disability.” The purpose of people-first language is to promote the idea that someone’s disability label is just a disability label—not the defining characteristic of the entire individual.
Bottom line – I recognize that I have a sensitivity deficit and am willing to consider reasonable modifications to my speech pattern (adjectives placed before nouns) on a case-by-case basis in order to avoid offending reasonable people.