Sunday, March 1, 2009

Don't Major in the Minors

Okay, I'm risking ticking-off some of you in our community, but see my heart and the core of this message. Whether you're in the disability community or not, we need to increase our credibility by choosing our battles. We need to stop majoring in the minor.

One word that makes the hair stand up on the back of my husband's and my neck is when people call our son a "hemophiliac". But why does that bother us? Because we were taught early on in his diagnosis that this is no longer an acceptable term in the community. If we hadn't been taught that, we probably wouldn't think twice about the word because he IS a hemophiliac. One of our friends in the bleeding disorders community is riotously funny with her comments: "I'm a bleeder. My kids our bleeders. My brothers and sisters are a bunch of bleeders. My whole family are bleeders!" She says this laughing, through a big smile. And it's completely and totally "un-PC", as my nephew would say. But she's someone worth listening to because she has gone before many of us on the things that concern our community.

My point is this, if we are constantly on the attack about the words that come out of the mouths of well-meaning individuals, then we will never be taken seriously. In 2006, the city of Madison, WI had decided that the word "wheelchair" had a negative connotation to it. They decided that using the term "impairment related mobility device" was more people friendly. (See Wacky Madison banning supposedly offensive wordsI, for one, couldn't believe that a local government had the time and money to waste on such nonsense. But the press also had a field day with it. Instead of giving individuals with disabilities the attention they need, this nonsense about terminology made people shake their heads in disgust. I don't care what you call my wheelchair! Give me wider aisles in stores so I can get through. Give me pharmaceuticals that I don't have to take out a second mortgage to pay for. Your words are meaningless unless you try to empathize with my situation and provide me the loving care that I need to function a daily basis.

On committees I've chaired, you can't even find two people who agree on the same terminology. One individual uses the word "handicapped" and the other committee member meets me after the meeting fuming that the word was used. The content of the meeting is completely lost because of one word, uttered by a well-meaning individual.

Don't get me wrong, I will always do my best to honor the sensitivities of those who are comforted by "people first language". The God of all Comfort and the Father of Compassion wants me (and you) to do our best to extend that courtesy to those in need. However, Jesus scolded the Pharisees for "straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel" (Matthew 23:24). Let's not make the same mistake. The Pharisees knew the letter of the law, but completely missed the heart of the law. Let's see people's hearts and forgive their clumsy words. Only in that way will we be heard and offered the compassion that God is providing to us through those who are doing their best to come alongside us.

1 comment:

  1. Barb, I agree with you wholeheartedly. My mother-in-law refers to the boys as "hemophilias"! She doesn't know what the correct term is but tries her best to remember what to say. When people get offended by remarks from those who are TRULY well-meaning, it is they who have the handicap of ignorance. Instead of being insulted, find a way to teach others what is right AND politically correct with a soft word and a guiding hand.