Why Language Matters During Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

Shakespeare wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

That is true, but call it something other than a rose and you form a different thought in your mind.

Words matter. Words form ideas, which in turn form attitudes.

Some people may see no distinction. But not me. Words matter.

We made the choice at Mosaic to always use people-first language.

When something is disabled, say a light switch, it means it’s not working. But people with disabilities? They are able; they are able to do many things well. Just not everything. None of us is able to do everything well.

Yet I know there are people who feel that having a disability is such a strong part of their identity, they prefer to be identified as disabled.

At Mosaic, we respect that, too.

People with disabilities have thoughts and opinions, wishes and dreams, hopes and goals.

Until we as a society reach the point where we simply see people with disabilities as different but not less than others, words will continue to matter.

Maybe then it will be unremarkable that a person with Down syndrome owns his own restaurant. Maybe instead the attention grabbing story would be that a young man closes his successful restaurant so he can move and be with the woman he loves. (It’s the same guy!)

Talking about the importance of words may bring a few sneering remarks that we’re just trying to be politically correct. It is not being politically correct. It is being polite. It is doing the right thing by others, being concerned about their feelings and not just our own.

So words are a start.

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