Yep, another language and terminology blog. But, this time I’m not here to talk about the ableist language and terminology as such. I’m here to discuss the ableism that gets perpetuated through the words that we use in practice and the way we use them, especially for those new to the world of disability.
A few weeks ago, my fabulous colleague at AbleOTUK and the other half of #TeamOTCP Rachel Booth-Gardiner wrote a very important blog about encouraging an inclusive culture of understanding by using words. This discusses many acronyms we use as a profession and how confusing these acronyms can be to occupational therapists and other professionals themselves, never mind those that we represent.
It was a really powerful post and as always Rachel got many people talking on Twitter. Communication is the most instrumental part of what we do as professionals and although we value this. When do we actually sit down and evaluate the everyday language used by the profession? Do you reflect on the words that you use and the body language that is being seen by those you serve?
Look, I am guilty of this, I love the profession and of course, as proud professionals we get thrills out of using the ‘buzz’ words but most of these buzz words mean nothing to those that we work with. Many assessments and outcome measures are overly complicated and sometimes aline with the medical model of disability. This doesn’t mean it’s not true and although I do not agree with the medical model’s representation of disability we can’t just ignore the diagnosis. My pain at times is due to environment but sometimes it’s also due to what’s going on with my spasticity levels. Yet, some of the language, terminology and descriptors used in practice are outdated making it difficult for this to be universally understood and if you’re new to the world of disability this can be a very conflicting time.
To use my passion for children’s occupational therapy again, let’s take the example of worrying parents who have been thrown into the world of disability without a tour guide and have been told their child needs an assessment. The explanation is very medicalised, very complicated, and very much focussed on the worst-case scenario if this assessment is not done. Do you think the parents with little to no knowledge of disability will consent to that assessment? It’s very likely. What parent wouldn’t want to do everything they can to help their child?
But, was the right language and terminology being used?
Does the parent know how the outcomes of the assessment will be used? Are the outcomes going to be based on the therapist’s subjective opinion with the child being labelled against a normative assessment with offensive terminology? Would that assessment be done in the first place if more simplistic terminology was used that maybe explains that their child is being assessed against non-disabled norms that it’s unlikely they’ll fit into?
This is why words matter. Rachel’s blog showed how much they matter inside and outside the workplace and we need to be constantly evaluating this. As a disabled occupational therapist, it’s great to see the profession being recognised by so many because we are keeping up with current times and aligning with the social model. But evaluating practice means evaluating everything not just the physical aspect, this includes language and terminology – both verbal and non-verbal.
Again, it’s not easy, I know I’ve used the wrong phrases in the past that are either ableist or perpetuate ableism I’m not saying we have to get it right all the time. The 9-5 job is very demanding and constantly second-guessing every word you say and how your body language may be interpreted is impossible and not a healthy place to be. But as a profession, we do need to do it a lot more frequently than we currently are and think about the lasting impression we have on those we serve.
Do we want to be known as a profession that tries and sometimes gets it wrong, or do we just want to be known as a profession that doesn’t try?
I know what I’d rather be known as, do you?
Thank you for reading,