Link October 2018 Volume 27 Issue 5 - Page 30

opinion
We know these terms now primarily as pejoratives . ‘ Mongol ’, following the Australian tendency to form diminutives , has even given us “ mong ”, meaning someone who is stupid or behaves as such . Yet there is also a consensus such language is unacceptable . How did we get here ?
The path to dignified language In December 1948 , the United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights . Affirming the dignity of all humans , Article 1 of this landmark document states : All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights . They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood .
Article 2 goes on to specify this should apply without distinction of any kind , such as race , colour , sex , language , religion , political or other opinion , national or social origin , property , birth or other status .
The declaration , prompted by the dehumanising events of the second world war , soon led to concerted initiatives to avoid hurtful and denigrating language .
Race and ethnicity was the first area to be addressed in Australia , where the philosophy of respect was enshrined in the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 . This included the currently controversial section 18C , which made it an offence to offend , insult , humiliate or intimidate someone else on the basis of race or nationality .
In the 1980s the scope was expanded in Australia to include gender and sexuality , with the legitimisation of terms like ‘ queer ’, and an increasing range of different kinds of sexuality now evident in the LGBTQI designations .
The third big change involved the language for people with disabilities , whether cognitive or physical . Here the English vocabulary was full of terms that mixed description with pejorative overtones .
People first Words like ‘ deaf ’, ‘ blind ’, ‘ dumb ’ and ‘ lame ’ are not only descriptions of physical ability and disability , but are commonly used in negative ways . For instance , ‘ deaf as a post ’, and ‘ blind Freddie ’.
We have now moved away from such language . Especially unacceptable are nouns like ‘ retard ’ or adjectives like ‘ demented ’. In their place , we have the principle of people first . The person and the disability are separated .
Instead of a phrase like ‘ demented person ’ we have ‘ person with dementia ’ or ‘ person living with dementia ’. The New South Wales Department of Ageing , Disability and Home Care has a list of such terms . We should avoid terms that suggest deficit in a negative way , such as ‘ disabled ’, ‘ invalid ’, ‘ retarded ’, ‘ handicap ’, ‘ spastic ’ and ‘ cripple ’. We should also avoid terms that explicitly specify limitation like ‘ confined ’ ( say , to a wheelchair ). ‘ Suffering from ’ is to be eschewed for the same reason , since it suggests the person is passive and incapable .
A number of paraphrases allow us to avoid sensitive terms . Instead of ‘ blind ’ we have ‘ visually impaired ’. People are not ‘ disabled ’ but ‘ differently abled ’.
Some of these terms can go too far and are effectively euphemisms because they sound overdone and excessively delicate , like ‘ intellectually challenged ’.
It is preferable to use language that doesn ’ t exclude people with these conditions from society . A good example of such inclusive language is ‘ ambulant toilet ’, often found in airports and public places , which simply indicates the toilet is suitable for anyone able to walk .
The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 consolidated these issues in Australian legislation , which now
30 opinion linkonline . com . au
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