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Language: A Powerful Instrument of Social Change

Language, both written and verbal, is a powerful instrument

Choices made in language, when relaying ideas to others, can bring people to a higher level of social awareness. Unfortunately, as exemplified in the recent comments made by Senator Buttars, the opposite is also true.

What do our language choices say about our societal values?

Governor Jon Huntsman recently signed a declaration designating March as Utah Disability Awareness Month. The UDDC (Utah Developmental Disabilities Council) and Executive Director, Claire Mantonya, along with People First Network of Utah invite the public to celebrate Utah Disability Awareness Month.

Paraphrasing his writing in the 1985 US Commission on Civil Rights report, Bob Burgdorf, Professor of Law at the University of the District of Columbia and advocate of rights for people with disabilities, stated that disability is "a natural part of the human condition. and will touch most of us at one time or another in our lives."

This is certainly true when we look at the diverse group individuals with disabilities constitute. One in five Utah residents have a disability and are represented by both genders, in all age, ethnic, socioeconomic and religious groups. A disability may be the result of a congenital issue, may be a result of trauma, develop as a natural part of the aging process, or a product of war.

The UDDC encourages the public to take a moment and consider the language they choose when referring to individuals or groups with a disability. The UDDC promotes the use of "People First" language in all written and verbal communication.

"People First" language respects and acknowledges the person before the disability. It seeks to replace old negative stereotypic words, such as "crippled" or "retarded" with positive statements such as "she has a physical disability" or "he is a person with an intellectual disability" that promote the individual, not the disability.

Every person in the community has a responsibility for their language choices. Members of the media, lawmakers and prominent community members have a responsibility to the public to ensure their words are inclusive of all members of society. Teachers and parents have a responsibility to the children they teach to encourage them to celebrate and respect the uniqueness of every human being.

We never know who may be listening when we speak, or how what we say may affect them. By using "People First" language you send a message of respect for all members of the society.

This year's Disability Awareness Month theme is "U Make Me Shine." Self-advocates throughout the state are expressing their appreciation to personal support staff, community support coordinators, as well as their families and friends who offer help throughout the year. If you see a member of your community wearing the "U Make Me Shine" lapel pin, take a moment and ask, "Who did make you shine?"
The Utah Developmental Disabilities Council consists of local governmental and non-governmental agencies, and self-advocates. The mission of the UDDC is to be the state's leading source of critical, innovative and progressive knowledge, advocacy, leadership and collaboration to enhance the life of individuals with developmental disabilities. http://utahddc.org/.

Article Reviewed: August 15, 2012
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