Feb 18, 2009

A Whole New Shade of Weird

I'm no stranger to weirdness but last week I conversed with a woman whose ideas were ... out there.

She asked what I did and I explained that I founded Art of Possibility to represent physically disabled artists. She then launched into something she calls "people first language" where I'm supposed to say "artists with disabilities" to make her more comfortable, or "people who work as artists that have disabilities" or something. The "people" comes "first."

When I told her that I'm okay being a blind lady instead of a "lady with blindness" (which sounds utterly stupid to me) she insisted that she was Right.

Seeing as how I'm often fallible, I let her notion roll around my consciousness a couple days and, y'know, it just doesn't hold up. If she wants to say "person with disabilities" instead of "disabled" when personhood is understood, more power to her. But to try to shame me into speaking in a way that doesn't disturb her delicate sensibilities, when no matter what we call it, I still can't see, is just diverting attention from true, meaningful change.

To extrapolate, everyone knows if I say my husband is an engineer that he's a person who works in the field of engineering. No one thinks he's an artichoke or an iguana. Do we have to now describe all physical characteristics that way? "The red-haired boy" becomes "the boy with red hair" or is it only characteristics that make others uncomfortable because of their own biases?

Any sentient listener understands that physical limits of the physical world impair our opportunity as physically disabled, not other causes. It's physics. So for Art of Possibility, we'll go with brevity and sanity in our parlance.

To the "people first language" people, I'd recommend getting past your own shame and stop projecting your prejudices onto others who don't share them. Those of us doing the actual work of inclusion have enough to do without pandering to word games that don't improve our daily lives.

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