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Language and disability

Words can be empowering. They can inspire and motivate us to change the world. When words are harsh, cruel or careless, you can’t take them back and you can’t take back the potential harm they may cause.

People with disability often hear language that is very much negative. A lot of the time the negative language used isn’t as a result of people trying to be harsh or cruel, it is used out of a lack of understanding or experience. Language has changed over time. A lot of generations still use language that was, at the time, acceptable. It is not out of disrespect or to harm or upset people, it is simply out of a lack of understanding.  It is people like Community Champions, using their lived experience to help educate and change the language used with disability in our community.

For a lot of people, the way we view language associated with disability can differ. For example, some people accept the term ‘little people or little person’, while some rather other terms such as ‘dwarfism’ or ‘short statured’. When talking about language, it is important to consider everyone’s opinions and viewpoints and the reasons for these viewpoints.  As a Community champion, you may be challenged and confronted when questioning the language people use around disability. It is important to remain calm and respect that people have different views and different understanding around disability, however, your lived experience can help change this and better educate people.

It is very common in Australia to use the term ‘Special needs’, particularly within the content of schools and education. For some, the term ‘special needs’ is accepted and seen as appropriate, for others, this may be offensive and hurtful.  

Watch the video below and answer the following questions.