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Our Words Matter!

One of the most serious consequences . . . is the dehumanizing negative evaluations we attach to people when they have been plastered with a damning label. Because we have slapped a label on them, we assume we have identified the essence of this person semantically branded . . . Thomas Merton (1948) coined the term "self-fulfilling prophecy" which has become the focus of numerous studies . . . The power of labels to stigmatize, create self-fulfilling prophecies and reduce or enhance self-images is awesome . . . Until we learn to appreciate the power of language and the importance of using it responsibly, we will continue to produce negative social consequences for those victimized by dangerous language habits.
J. Dan Rothwell, Telling It Like It Isn't: Language Misuse and Malpractice/What We Can Do About It

Do the words used to describe you have an effect on your life? You bet! Contrary to the age-old "sticks and stones" lesson we learned as children, words do matter! As the articles in this section illustrate, positive changes in our language and communication can change our lives and change our worlds! How will we use the power of our words?


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Explore the articles below . . .

And check out the Your Stories section for valuable real-life experiences!

Looking for a specific article?
Click here to go to the Explore/Home page;
midway down the page you'll find an alphabetical listing of all articles.

Enjoy these new ways of thinking!



Ask, Don't Assume
We do a lot of assuming about children and adults with disabilities. It's time to ask them what they want (and don't want), what they think, what they need, and what they dream.

Beyond "Two-Dimensional" Thinking
Either/or, yes/no, all/nothing are symptoms of two-dimensional thinking, which can be a recipe for conflict, stress, and other negative outcomes. We can embrace a new recipe for thinking-to stretch our minds-and change our world.

Case Against "Special Needs"
Like other words in Disability World, this term is so commonly used we seldom think about what it means. Have you considered that it promotes pity, negative attitudes, and segregation? It's time to throw this descriptor into the junk heap!

Creating Change Through Effective Communication
When we speak, do we mean what we say and say what we mean? As listeners, do we hear what was really said? Many of our difficulties could be solved if we communicated more effectively!

Disability Awareness vs. Similarity Awareness
Are "disability awareness" strategies effective? Focusing on differences can unintentionally reinforce prejudice, but targeting the similarities of people with and without disabilities can dismantle attitudinal barriers!

Fact or Opinion?
People in positions of authority make decisions—sometimes life-changing decisions—about people with disabilities. But what if those decisions are based on opinions, not facts?

Hierarchy of Insults
"Idiot," "crazy," and "retard" are some disability descriptors that have been turned into insults. What does this say about attitudes about disability and what can we do about it? Each of us can do our part!

Humor to the Rescue: What Do You Say When...?
Tired of nosy questions and rude comments? Don't get mad, get funny-let humor come to the rescue!

"I Don't Know"
Three little words-"I don't know"-could have a profound and positive effect on the lives of children and adults with disabilities and their families. They could prevent the death of dreams, equalize relationships, open up worlds of possibilities, and much more!

Identity Theft
Has it happened to you? Hope not. But a different—and more harmful—type of identity theft may have happened to a person with a disability that you know. We all have the power to stop this "crime"!

Is It "Just Semantics"?
Our words and the meanings we attach to those words create attitudes, drive social policies and laws, influence our feelings and our decisions, affect people's daily lives, and more. Words, their meanings, and how we use words matter a great deal!

Let's Stop the Hurt
Many words and actions in Disability World can create long-lasting pain for people with disabilities and their families. But there are changes we can all make to stop the hurt once and for all!

Kathie's presentation helped me realize that my feelings of self-worth can be changed by what words are used.

Person with a disability, Iowa

Life Beyond the Label
When we minimize the importance of the diagnosis and maximize the person, people with disabilities can move beyond the label and live better lives. (And you'll love the part about the mom and her daughter with autism.)

Lost Art of Manners
Most of us work hard to have good manners, but our best efforts often seem to fall by the wayside when it comes to people with disabilities. Let's find our manners again! (Click here for the Spanish version.)

Negative Prognoses and the Disability Double Standard
If a professional forecasts a negative future for a child without a disability, the parents are justifiably angered. But in the same situation, parents of children with disabilities are said to be "in denial," "not realistic," "still grieving," etc. Let's end this double standard!

Problem with "Problem"
With the best of intentions, we describe the "problems" of a person with a disability, in order to explain, get more services, or for some other reason. But our efforts can lead to negative consequences! This article details better strategies we can embrace. (Click here for the Spanish version.)

Public Images vs. Personal Self-Esteem
Many organizations work hard on behalf of people with disabilities. But could their public relations efforts have a negative impact on the individuals they say they serve? (Click here for the Spanish version.)

Remember the Ham!
How many times have we done things the way they've always been done, with no idea of the "why"? The "ham story" can put us on a different path!

Shhh! Someone's Listening, Watch Your Language!
Sometimes we demonstrate "inappropriate behavior" when it comes to talking about individuals with disabilities. It's time to remember that people have feelings and we need to watch our language. So, shhhh...

TMI and Organ Recitals
Are you ready to chuckle and wince in the same article? There's a TMI Epidemic on the horizon and there are too many Organ Recitals being performed, but it's possible to nip these in the bud before things go too far!

"What Will It Take?"
Are you tired of not getting what you want and need? If so, it's time to become a negotiator, and eliminate arguing, nagging, threats, and more! What will it take for you to check out this article?

What's in a Name?
Which is better: "Hollywood Snow" or "the SPED kid"? Read on to see what a difference a name makes!

Who is a "Caregiver"?
Not too many years ago, people who were related to one another and who took care of each other were simply called "family." So who's a caregiver and who's not?

Who Is a "Consumer"?
Disability jargon is a mess, and "consumer" is a word that's commonly used. But what does it mean and is it a descriptor chosen by people with disabilities or was it imposed on them?

Why Do We Apologize?
Too many of us apologize, explain, or make excuses for the people with disabilities in our life. We're trying to "help," but these actions are actually counterproductive!

"Wrong" is Just Not Right!
We hear it all the time: "What's wrong with him," or "We think there's something wrong with her because..." What does this word do to the people we're talking about? This word is just not right!

Discover other valuable articles

and helpful information on these pages: 

Newsletter Library

Your Stories

People First Language

New Attitudes

Strategies for All





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