Why Do People On The Same Team Argue Over Semantics?

I like words. I always have. I take pride in the use of proper grammar. And I know that words matter. I have experienced them used as both tools and weapons.

So I find myself wondering why I rarely see anything that stirs debate more readily than semantics in disability discourse.

I can completely understand why people take issue with ignorance and blatant discrimination. When words are used in a derogatory way, when their intent is to belittle, denigrate or express malice ... I get it and obviously take issue with it, too. 

Doesn’t there seem to be a need for a standardization of language so we can get on with the business of inclusion? Removing the Stumbling Block
But I find myself puzzled when people who are supposed to be on the "same team" argue over semantics. If our goal is to increase awareness and foster inclusion, don't we weaken the cause when those who work with, advocate for, love and are themselves individuals with disabilities can't seem to agree? And what’s more frustrating is that we ostensibly agree on the value of inclusion. So why don’t we agree on which words will help advance that cause? Are we somehow undermining ourselves?

There are so many phrases: special needs vs. disabilities; disabled, non-disabled, differently-abled. Inclusion and reverse inclusion. Are some of these terms "better" than others? Should some be used in certain settings but not in others? Doesn’t there seem to be a need for a standardization of language so we can get on with the business of inclusion?

I have to admit, I’m a little anxious to have everybody weigh in. As I’ve said, I know this issue makes people feel defensive. However, I am also really intrigued by the potential for a dialogue that is both constructive and productive. So, shall we start the conversation?

This article was originally posted on The NY Jewish Week's The New Normal: Blogging Disability.


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