By Owen Charters
Recently, we shared some style guides with our staff that discussed using language in more appropriate, inclusive ways in different situations and to recognize various populations—A Progressive’s Style Guide (American), JHR’s Style Guide for Reporting on Indigenous People, Egale’s Two Spirits, One Voice, CCGSD’s How you can be inclusive to Two Spirits and LGBTQ Indigenous folks, and TVO’s Why we decided to capitalize Black, Aboriginal and Indigenous.
Language is always evolving, and despite some areas where it seems to devolve (the use of emojis, perhaps? Trump on Twitter?), it’s usually a progressive thing.
As Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada is a social service provider and needs to be in sync with the populations and causes we serve and support, we need to be aware of the language we use. We need to be progressive. We want to ensure we are following best practice and appropriately reflecting or representing the populations and issues we’re talking about.
In my previous work with kids with disabilities, we were trained early on to use language that was enabling. One of the most frustrating lines that often appears in the media is “She was confined to a wheelchair.” People in wheelchairs are not confined. It’s quite the opposite; the wheelchair offers them mobility and capacity for independence—it is not a confining device. People with disabilities do not want to be ‘disabled people’—they are people first, not disabled first. So “people with disabilities” is greatly preferred. And some are increasingly asked to be noted as ‘differently-abled’—because, it turns out, we ALL have some form of disability. I wear glasses and can’t see without them. Some people have asthma and can’t do certain athletic activities without an inhaler. So why do we differentiate those that are “obviously” disabled from those who might seem less so?
That’s why these style guides are important.
Language is important and should be enabling, not belittling. It’s easy to fall into bad habits—doctors are infamous for this: “Did you get to see the diabetic in exam room 1? I just spoke with the broken leg in 2.” The language completely removes the person and undermines the respect for the individuals who are the patients—whole people who have needs and lives beyond their injury or disease.
Since one of our core values is ‘Respect: We ensure that everyone is heard, valued, and treated fairly,’ we need to ensure we use language that shows that respect.