Toronto District School Board Gets “Proactive” About Indigenous People

Jobs within the Toronto District School Board done by “Chiefs” will now be done by “Managers”, out of respect for Indigenous cultures.  The move was taken after considering the calls to action of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which published a report in 2015 about the Canada’s history, stretching over a century, of placing Indigenous children in residential schools.

The issue is that no one had complained. Toronto District School Board Curator of Indigenous Arts and Culture Dan Redbird says no one from the Indigenous community asked for the change, and that “Chief” isn’t a word that has anything to do with Indigenous traditions.

“It was an imposed word that the government introduced with the Indian Act back in the 1800s.” Redbird told Nick Bosvert of CBC News.  

He acknowledged that it’s come to be used as a micro-aggression, and likes that the Toronto District School Board has taken the step, but “doesn’t envision a dramatic impact from the change.”

Image Description: Young white woman wearing a white blouse and dark blazer rests her head on her laptap keyboard. Her long brown hair is in a ponytail.

Content Note: Residential Schools, Nothing for Us Without Us, Abuse, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Forced Sterilization, Retard

Toronto District School Board Wants to be “Proactive”

Here’s some more about the word “Chief” that I learned from an interview on CBC Radio One’s “As It Happens” on October 11:

  • It means “leader”
  • Its origins are Roman and Old French
  • In French, it’s “chef” (which the Toronto District School Board will not be replacing)

The changes that the Toronto District School Board plans to make affect approximately 20 job titles.

I have thoughts.

The “As It Happens” interview was with  Ryan Bird, the Toronto District School Board’s Manager of Corporate and Social Media Relations. The interview in its entirety can be heard here.

Click for a transcript, at “Toronto District School Board: No Chiefs”

I was in the car with my father as we listened to the interview, and it wasn’t long before I turned to him and said, “And here’s where my friend Geoff would say, ‘Did anyone complain about this?'”

Just as interviewer Carol Ott said, “Did you get complaints?”

Geoff and I have been around and around on the issue of people deciding for other people what *should* offend them. Often it’s been disability-related – Geoff has asked why people who aren’t disabled should decide what terminology should offend disabled people, like the word “retard”, and I’ve said, “I didn’t decide that ‘retard’ should offend intellectually disabled people – they’ve told many people themselves that it does.” More recently, it’s been about the choice to keep Washington’s football team the “Redskins” – Geoff says that Indigenous people don’t find the name offensive, and sends me media clips and articles that support his position. I have media clips and articles of my own by Indigenous people that do find it offensive. We do what we do in our debates on most things – agree to disagree.

And if an organization using “Chiefs” instead of “Managers” is offensive to some or all Indigenous people, the terminology should change. I’d absolutely support the Toronto District School Board ( or any organization) talking to the Indigenous community regarding changing anything that they see as potentially concerning , asking “Would changing this be healing?” and acting on those recommendations. But the Toronto District School Board didn’t do that, or if they did they appeared to reject the recommendations of the community, in favour of being “proactive” (Ken Bird’s word) – deciding for the Indigenous community that they *should* find the Toronto District School Board’s use of “Chiefs” offensive, and therefore worthy of addressing before people started to complain.

And they’re wondering why there’s been mixed reaction to their move that they didn’t anticipate.

“Nothing for Us Without Us”

The disability advocacy community has a saying – “Nothing for us without us”.   It reminds people that make the decisions that affect disabled people that disabled people need to be involved in the process. Policy that’s meant to help disabled people, made without consulting disabled people, could end up being useless to us.

“Nothing for us without us” kept going through my mind as I listened to this interview. The point of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its final report was to document the ways that Canada’s government hurt Indigenous people with its insistence that it knew better than their communities how to raise their children (and the horrific abuse that went on in the residential schools) and exploring ways of “establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country.”

My opinion only, of course…but it’s not “proactive” or respectful to make policy based on what non-Indigenous people think should insult Indigenous people without consulting them, especially when:

  • There’s plenty of easily-accessible evidence out there to suggest that this might not be the case – in this case, commentaries on the word “chief” and its origins, as well as its relationship to Indigenous communities, by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. They all agree – it’s a word imposed on Indigenous people, not one with any significance to Indigenous people themselves.
  • There’s no indication that the issue that the policy addresses is actually an issue.
  • The “proactive” behaviour is actually an example of historically problematic behaviour – Non-Indigenous people deciding that they know what’s best for Indigenous people and going ahead and doing it, without caring what Indigenous people think about it.

Again, not “proactive” – offensive. I find it offensive, at least, and there seems to be some evidence that Indigenous people do as well. Indigenous Canadian author Robert Jago expressed his feelings on Twitter:

Are Good Intentions Always Enough?

I’m not suggesting that the Toronto District School Board didn’t have good intentions. I’m suggesting  its action was tone-deaf.

I’m not an Indigenous woman, and I won’t pretend to know what it’s like to live in an Indigenous person in Canada. But have an imagination, empathy, and as a disabled woman, membership in a group with a similar (not identical, but similar) history of forced institutionalization by the government in highly abusive environments, marginalization, and ongoing discrimination…and hearing about this action by the Toronto District School Board, the rationale behind it, and their self-congratulatory pats on the back for it, made me furious.

I’m a writer and I believe in the power of words to shape attitudes and actions. I’ve had this debate with friends as well. But reconciliation won’t happen because 20 people in a school board get a word in their title changed. You want to make an impression on the kids your schools, Toronto District School Board?  Get some Indigenous speakers in to talk about life for kids their age in reservation towns like Attawapiskat.

Let them learn about the class action suit launched earlier this month by Indigenous women, alleging that they’d been sterilized without consent in the 1990s.

Let them hear stories from the families of over 1000 missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Let them hear stories and ask questions, and find out how they can help. I guarantee that some of these kids have never thought about these issues before simply because no one’s ever talked to them about them…and that once they’re thinking, they’ll want to learn more…and get involved in the dialogue between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people about the best ways to bring about reconciliation.

Dialogue, not assumptions. Dialogue will bring about change – it won’t be as easy as changing signs on office doors and printing out new business cards for 20 employees, but it will be deeper and more effective and we’ll all be better people for it.

All That Being Said…

Perhaps there are Indigenous people on the Board at the Toronto District School Board who thought this move was a good idea, and the Board was acting on their guidance. If that’s the case, people should please let Ken Bird know that he needs to speak to this – because nothing in the nearly-eight-minute interview with “As It Happens” or in the multiple media accounts that I read suggests that the Toronto District School Board made this change with any consultation from the Indigenous community.

As always, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong about any of this.

Ann Coulter Uses the Word “Retard” Again

When I heard that Ann Coulter, in a throwback to the 2012 election cycle (albeit a bit earlier in this time) had used the word “retard” again, I wasn’t going to write about it at first. But obviously I’ve changed my mind.

Content Note: Ableist slurs, Ableism, Donald Trump, US Election 2016

Headshot of Ann Coulter at the 5th Annual TV Land Awards - woman of indeterminate age with long blonde hair and blue eyes, smiling into the camera. Keyword: Ann Coulter

Image Description: Headshot of Ann Coulter at the 5th Annual TV Land Awards – woman of indeterminate age with long blonde hair and blue eyes, smiling into the camera.

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In 2012, after a Presidential debate, Ann Coulter tweeted “I highly approve of Romney’s decision to be kind and gentle to the retard”, in reference to Barack Obama, and I said that I was “shocked.”

I’m not shocked this time around. I’ve heard her talk a lot in the last four years.

This time, she was defending Donald Trump’s mocking of disabled reporter Serge Kovaleski. In her new book, In Trump We Trusts, she writes (as reported by theslot.jezebel.com):

“Trump denied knowing that Serge was disabled, and demanded an apology, saying that anyone could see his imitation was of a flustered, frightened reporter, not a disabled person. It’s true that Trump was not mimicking any mannerisms that Serge has. He doesn’t jerk around or flail his arms. He’s not retarded. He sits calmly, but if you look at his wrists, you’ll see they are curved in. That’s not the imitation Trump was doing—he was doing a standard retard, waving his arms and sounding stupid: “’Ahhh, I don’t know what I said—ahhh, I don’t remember!’ He’s going, ‘Ahhh, I don’t remember, maybe that’s what I said!’”

Even if I chose to overlook her use of “retard” and “retarded”…it’s a terrible argument, and Ann Coulter knows it.

Call Her What You Want – Ann Coulter is a Smart Woman

Check out Coulter’s biography. She’s a corporate lawyer. She worked for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, for God’s sake. She’s a best-selling author and columnist and a respected Conservative pundit, and you don’t get to her level in the right-wing media when you’re a woman unless you’ve got some major brains in your head.

Granted, Coulter was fired from MSNBC (twice) because she’s so controversial. Personally, I think most of her expressed opinions are disgusting. But I’d bet money that a lot of her bluster is just that – bluster. She’s worked hard to get to the top and she knows that the more she can shock people, the longer she’ll stay there. The people that are buying In Trump We Trust aren’t going to be bothered that she used the word “retard”. She’s hoping that you’ll be bothered enough that you’ll buy the book to see what else she’s said, or that you’ll at least talk about this one page in her book long enough to keep her in the news a little longer so that her fans who haven’t heard about her book will buy it.

And yes, I do realize that I’m contributing to this by writing this blog post. But:

  1. I’m not going to get into the number of people that access this blog in a day, but this post isn’t going to be what keeps Ann Coulter in the news.
  2. The people who consistently access this blog aren’t likely to go out and purchase Ann Coulter’s book even out of morbid curiosity.

Bottom Line

Ann Coulter is a shock jock, and she plays that game really well.

Each time she says “retard”, she knows what the response will be, and she’ll only use it as “evidence” to support her Trump-ish narrative that America is too politically correct and that people can’t speak their minds for fear of the “thought police” coming after them. I’ve been hearing this narrative for years, and it irks me. I’m not in favour of “silencing” anyone – people should feel free to say what they want. But word choice has consequences, so people should ask themselves, “Am I willing to live with the consequences?” before tossing around words like “retard” like they don’t have any historical context and emotional weight behind them.

Apparently Anne Coulter feels so strongly about using shock value as a way to stay in the spotlight that she’s willing to live with the personal consequences of using ableist language (not to mention racist, classist and sexist language) in her speech and writing. And that’s her problem. Not yours. The best thing you can do is continue to let her know that there are consequences to using language that’s hurtful to other people.

Ann Coulter – Here’s What You Can Do

You’re not going to change Ann Coulter. But here are some things you *can* do:

  • Refuse to even read her books (let alone buy them) and tell people why.
  • When people bring up her theory that Donald Trump wasn’t mocking Serge Kovaleski, tell them that it’s a load of crap and explain why (it’s not that difficult; just go over the paragraph I cited.) Be sure to include that she should know herself that it’s a load of crap, since she’s a corporate lawyer and can presumably spot a poorly-constructed argument.
  • Continue to explain to people why “retard” is hurtful and why people get upset when celebrities use it. Mention that she’s a frequent and unapologetic offender.

But at the same time, don’t let her hateful rhetoric rent space in your head.

You’ve got much more important things to think about than the ramblings of a woman who feels irrelevancy nipping at her heels.

 

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Ellen Degeneres and “Idiotest”

So I was cleaning yesterday and had my television set to “Ellen”.

I don’t watch “Ellen” very often. It’s not that I don’t like Ellen Degeneres. I actually find her quite funny. There’s just usually something on that I want to watch more when her show’s airing in my area and I happen to be watching TV, and I don’t have a DVR.

Content Note: Ableist slurs

White man in a gray suit with a white shirt and blue bow tie grins widely. He's holding holding a large white sign that says "IDIOT" in red letters. Keyword: Idiotest

Image Description: White man in a gray suit with a white shirt and blue bow tie grins widely. He’s holding holding a large white sign that says “IDIOT” in red letters.

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But yesterday I was distracted by cleaning and the show that was on at 3pm switched over to “Ellen” and I didn’t bother to change it, so there you go. But the show, a repeat from April, got my attention very quickly when Ellen started talking about how they were going to play their own version of “Idiotest” (a game show of which I’d never heard, on the Game Show Network) with the audience.

“Idiotest”…Idiot…

I don’t like the word “idiot”. It’s got an ableist history as sordid as “retard”. I try not to use it since I learned about how ableist it is, but when I do let it slip, you can bet that I’m very angry. Eliminating it from my vocabulary was difficult, because it’s very much a part of society’s vernacular, and I’d grown up using it (unlike “retard”, which was never allowed in my house). And most people don’t know that it’s ableist, so I cut them some slack when I hear it.

However, the fact that there’s a game called “Idiotest” (on prime-time and on “Ellen”) makes me feel a uncomfortable, particularly when Ellen said in her video that she was playing the game with the audience to “assure the world that there are no idiots in my audience”.  Obviously the research department hadn’t unearthed that “idiot” was originally a derogatory term for intellectually challenged people. People aren’t using it with that intent now, obviously, but even if it wasn’t her intent to send the message that intellectually challenged people weren’t welcome in her audience (and I don’t think that was the message), there was a subtle, albeit joking, message that people with low intelligence aren’t.

Calling People Idiots Just Isn’t Funny

The problem is that the joke isn’t really funny, and it becomes less funny when you know the history of the word “idiot”. There’s currently enough in the definitions of “idiot” on the first page of Google that any good researcher should have thought, “Uh oh, better look at this before we create a game around it.”

Ellen’s idea of “Idiotest” involved bringing people (presumably pre-selected) up from the audience and asking them a brain-teaser. The people who got them wrong (4 of 5) got called idiots and were made to sit on the stage wearing dunce caps.  Here’s the video:

They each got a great trip as a prize, but that’s not really the point. The whole “Idiotest” business hearkens back to a particularly ugly time in the school system that really doesn’t need revisiting. Children were asked questions through which they perhaps legitimately couldn’t think because of undiagnosed cognitive difficulties and learning disorders, and when they couldn’t get the answers they were shamed in front of the whole class and made to sit in the corner wearing dunce caps.

Seeing someone try to make that experience into something fun and funny made me feel profoundly uncomfortable.

I expected a bit more sensitivity from Ellen Degeneres.

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Person-First Language: A Closer Look

The other day, I read Emily Ladau’s piece on why she uses identity-first language instead of person-first language, and I really liked it. She provided a great analysis of how person-first language became the *only* correct terminology to use for a while, and clearly explained why it’s because very important for many disabled people to self-identify using identity-first and not person-first language.

Including me.

Content Note: Terminology preference, ableism, historical context of person-first language

Person in a wheelchair, bottom half visible only, on a road in a crowd of people not using wheelchairs (Iegs visible only). It's a sunny day; the shadows of the people in the picture are cast on the roadway. Keyword: person-first language

Image Description: Person in a wheelchair, bottom half visible only, on a road in a crowd of people not using wheelchairs (Iegs visible only). It’s a sunny day; the shadows of the people in the picture are cast on the roadway.

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I used person-first language for over two decades, up to and after my stroke. I was trained to use it. I explained to others why it was the most respectful language to use. I wrote probably the first 1.5 years of posts in this blog using person-first language.

It took reading a post by autism advocate Lydia Brown and couple of hours reading some perspectives on people-first vs identity-first language to prompt me to rethink my stance. And now I do prefer to use identity-first language for myself and in my writing. I only use person-first language it when I’m talking to/about someone who has stated a preference for it.

But when I shared Emily’s article on the GirlWithTheCane Facebook page, I included a bit of commentary about a discussion I had with someone after I wrote my first blog post about person-first language vs identity-first:

“I’ve blogged about this subject too, and had someone point out to me though that, as much as person-first is falling out of favour today, we should acknowledge that it was revolutionary when people started using it.”

Person-First Language Was a Game-Changer

There’s a historical context to person-first language that I think we sometimes forget.  It’s not as if, as disability activist and blogger Andrew Pulrang pointed out on the Facebook page, that person-first language is “some tool of oppression cooked up by non-disabled people.” It wasn’t so long ago that it would have seemed silly to call a disabled person a “person with a disability” because disabled people weren’t considered people.  For people to start saying, for example, “He is a person with Down Syndrome” instead of “He’s Down’s” would have been nothing short of a paradigm shift.

It’s worth noting that some groups (like the Deaf community) didn’t like person-first language from the outset and that, as Emily noted, other communities have become disillusioned with it, such as the autistic community. I understand that. As disabled people, we should always be open to moving away from what no longer works, because there are still so many barriers to true equality to be torn down, and some of it is really life and death.

But I think that we need to appreciate the historical context of the things from which we’re moving away, including person-first language.

How Much Does Person-First Language vs Identity First Language Matter in the Long Run?

We’ve rightfully discarded so much of what’s been historically considered “right” and “appropriate” for disabled people because it was neither. Institutional care for intellectually disabled people, for example, has historically been abusive and in violation of even basic human rights.

Person-first language was a response to a culture where disabled people weren’t seen (or treated) as human. It was intended to do good and actually did. It wasn’t a wrong that needed to be abandoned, and still hasn’t become one. While it’s being used less and less, many disabled people still prefer to self-identify using person-first language. Does it hurt disabled identity-first language defenders that that there are disabled people out there that use person-first language, and vice versa, as long as we respect each others’ preferences?   In my opinion, it doesn’t, and no one should be made to feel uncomfortable or wrong for wanting to use one over the other.

There are still such major battles to be fought, and so much debate about this. Has it become divisive when more division is the last thing we need?

Which is not to say that Emily didn’t write a great article.  I’ve been wanting to write about this for a long time, and her article just got me moving.

In Other News…

I’ve written a short Kindle book about the inpatient stroke rehabilitation experience, and plan to write some more about post-stroke life. Right now I’m trying to keep them very practical, but I want to explore some ideas about disability rights issues later in the series. Visit the website for updates: strokeguides.com.

 

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg Profiles People Who Are “Suffering From Normalcy”

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg, one of my favourite bloggers, has launched a wonderfully subversive series of memes on the Facebook page for her blog, “Disability and Representation” 

“I’m not making fun of normal people,” she explains to someone. “I’m parodying cultural representations of disability.”

I think that this idea is brilliant, and people visiting Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg’s Facebook page side are certainly getting the idea and getting into the spirit of her campaign. Will the general public, I wonder?

Confession: I’d Not Thought About These Things

I’d been working with disabled people for nearly twenty years, both in volunteer positions and as paid staff, before I started writing this blog. I’d been disabled myself for over a decade. My experiences had given me some strong opinions on some issues with which colleagues didn’t always agree. But, until I started reading the work of other disability bloggers like Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg, I’d never thought about why calling disabled people “inspirational” was potentially offensive (just that I found it puzzling when people called me inspirational), or about how first-person language (which I’d always been told to use) wasn’t necessarily the most sensitive language to use…or about how the “normal” peoples’ best attempts to be inclusive and validating of disabled people fall embarrassingly flat sometimes.

The point of the graphic below, developed by Tina Jones for use on Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg’s Facebook page, is that when you substitute the word “normal” or “normalcy” in all these platitudes where “disabled” or “disability” generally appears, it looks ridiculous – just as ridiculous as it *should* look when “disabled” and “disability” are there, and yet we don’t question that. We need to start to.

An Awareness Building concept design about "Normalcy": A beige ribbon centred in the middle of the graphic has "Normalcy" in black letters stamped across it. The ribbon is surrounded with quotes like, "Raising Awareness One Normal Person at a Time" and "Normal People are Special Gifts from God."

Image Description: An Awareness Building concept design about “Normalcy”: A beige ribbon centred in the middle of the graphic has “Normalcy” in black letters stamped across it. The ribbon is surrounded with quotes like, “Raising Awareness One Normal Person at a Time” and “Normal People are Special Gifts from God.”

I realize, of course, that this may viewpoint may create tension for groups that are trying to reclaim terms like “disabled” and other disability-related words, or who are facing the difficult challenge of “humanizing” disabled people who have been traditionally regarded as so different from “normal” people that there really is a need to convey that message of “We’re not so different”. I don’t think that these memes are about trying to tell people how they can and can’t choose to self-identify, self-advocate, or advocate for others. I think they’re asking people to think about language and images and how they tend to be paired when it comes to disabled people, and about what message we want to send…and whether what we put out there is sending that message.

That’s never a bad process to go through before you put anything out there (I’m doing it right now!)

Anyway, here are some of my favourites from the “Normalcy” campaign so far. Do you get what it’s trying to do?

Image Description: A white adult male with shaggy, dark blond hair and glasses pushed to the end of his nose plays an electric guitar. He is wearing a blue patterned shirt with what looks like a red sweater vest on top. On the picture is printed: "Because he has received years of intensive specialized therapy, most people can no longer tell that this person is Normal. Won't you make sure that all children like him receive the help that they need to thrive?" Keyword: Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

Image Description: A white adult male with shaggy, dark blond hair and glasses pushed to the end of his nose plays an electric guitar. He is wearing a blue patterned shirt with what looks like a red sweater vest on top. On the picture is printed: “Because he has received years of intensive specialized therapy, most people can no longer tell that this person is Normal. Won’t you make sure that all children like him receive the help that they need to thrive?”

A white woman with shoulder-length brown hair, wearing a yellow bathrobe with small black polka dots on it, smiles at the camera. Sunglasses rest on the top of her head, and she holds a stuffed bird with an open beak against her chest. Across the picture is written: "She's NORMAL. But not in an obvious way. This woman works hard to fit in with her non-normal peers. We think that's AWESOME!" Keyword: Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

Image Description: A white woman with shoulder-length brown hair, wearing a yellow bathrobe with small black polka dots on it, smiles at the camera. Sunglasses rest on the top of her head, and she holds a stuffed bird with an open beak against her chest. Across the picture is written: “She’s NORMAL. But not in an obvious way. This woman works hard to fit in with her non-normal peers. We think that’s AWESOME!”

A white, dark-haired woman wearing a gray shirt and a yellow zip-up hoodie looks at the camera, wide-eyed. She has an empty, slightly crushed Sprite can sticking out of her mouth. On the picture is written: "This is my courageous friend whose life has been touched by normalcy. Each day she strives to overcome!" Keyword: Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

Image Description: A white, dark-haired woman wearing a gray shirt and a yellow zip-up hoodie looks at the camera, wide-eyed. She has an empty, slightly crushed Sprite can sticking out of her mouth. On the picture is written: “This is my courageous friend whose life has been touched by normalcy. Each day she strives to overcome!”

Have a great weekend!

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Person-First Language: A Reflection, Apology and Promise

I’ve had my eyes opened about person-first language.

Content Warning: Terminology, Erasure, Assumptions

"Sorry" in white cursive font against a pink background. Keyword: person-first language

Image Description: “Sorry” in white cursive font against a pink background.

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Person-first language is a specific way of speaking about people with disabilities. I just used it, in fact, when I said “people with disabilities”. By putting the person before the condition (for example, referring to myself as a “person with disabilities” instead of “disabled”), I affirm my personhood before my condition. I stress that myself and others that I am more than my disabilities.

Readers that are familiar with person-first language likely notice that I use it constantly in this blog. I’ve never liked the term “disabled”, personally. It has negative connotations for me. Particularly right after my stroke, I was hell-bent on distancing myself from the idea that my new physical limitations prevented me from doing what I wanted to, so I wanted my personhood affirmed before my disabilities. I wanted those disabilities to fade into the background as much as possible – not because I saw them as intrinsically bad, but because I wanted them to just be irrelevant.

The Debate About Person-First Language

From the time that I started volunteering with agencies that support with disabilities (there I go again) when I was fifteen, through my developmental services worker training, through my paid employment, the importance of person-first language has been drilled into me. It’s automatic. I’ve read blogs that use “disabled” rather than “person with disability” or “Autistic” rather than “person with autism”, and just thought, “Tsk, tsk, no person-first”, or assumed that the writer hadn’t been educated about it.

After all the times that I’ve said to ask, not assume…shame on me.

A few days ago, I read this post about person-first language by Lydia Brown over at Autistic Hoya, and had my mind blown.

I had no idea that so many people felt so strongly about being called “Autistic” as opposed to “person with autism”.

I hadn’t considered the idea that person-first language, for so many disabled people (Autistic, Blind and Deaf people in particular) does the opposite of what it’s intended to do.  And I see their point. When you see autism, for example, as part of what makes you who you are, then attempts to compartmentalize it from your personhood are…insulting. They imply that there’s a “you” that exists uninfluenced by autism and its effects on your brain’s wiring. They also imply that there’s something wrong with autism, that your “personhood” would be enhanced without it.

Lydia and other bloggers that I read on this subject made the argument that we don’t use this sort of terminology with any of the other identifiers in life. I do not say, “I am a person with Canadianness/disability advocateness/writingness/daughterness/sisterness/sister-in-lawness/ auntness/ friendness”…I say, “I am a “Canadian/disability advocate/writer/daughter/sister/aunt/ friend”.  You can’t separate me from these things, any more than you can separate an Autistic person from autism.

And I know from experience, from listening to others, from writing this blog and reading other blogs, that I can’t make my disabilities irrelevant. They do affect my experience in this world, no matter how much I wish they wouldn’t. I know that person-first language has not made the “personhood” of disabled people safe from poverty, abuse, assault, and even murder, just because of their disabilities. I like to think that I’ve moved past the idea that my disabilities are something that I *need* to make irrelevant in my life out of fear of peoples’ negative perceptions of disability, but perhaps it’s time to do some personal reflection on this…and some more intense work on self-acceptance (and my efficacy as an advocate).

I am who I am today because my brain functions a bit differently than other peoples’. I am disabled, and it’s fine.

A Sincere Apology

And I apologize from the bottom of my heart to anyone that’s been negatively affected by my using person-first language in this blog. I truly did not realize the scope of this issue. I do think that person-first language has its own strengths. But because I now know the extent to which the debate over the appropriateness of person-first language affects the autism community in particular, I won’t use it anymore when I talk about autism, and I’m seriously going to reconsider whether I should use person-first language at all anymore.

To some it may sound like an issue of semantics, but it’s obviously anything but for many people. I want to be respectful and not make assumptions. I’m rather ashamed that I’ve gone this long without being aware of the controversy over person-first language. Reading the perspectives of the people who’d rather it not be used has been enlightening and truly humbling.

What are your thoughts on this issue?

Another excellent post by an opponent of person-first language

 

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