Why we should think more about the words that we use

Dementia Care
April 12, 2017

This week we saw these open letters written by the Darlington Learning Impairment Network addressed to health and social care professionals.

We think they make some really good points about the words that people use.

Letter 3 mentions some health and social care jargon – words like “Cohort”, “Vulnerable”, “Challenging Behaviour”, and “Co-morbidity”.

It says: “these words are not used to describe how nondisabled people live their lives. We think that by using words like these people are trapped in Service Land… If you are trapped in Service Land it’s really hard to be a citizen and be seen as equal to nondisabled people and be described like everyone else. By using the language of Service Land people are seen as different.”

We agree with this. At My Life My Choice, we try and use the same words for everybody. Trustees with learning disabilities work alongside staff who don’t, and we all have different strengths and weaknesses.

The letter also says: “We think rather than use “special” words to describe people and what happens to them, professionals should use everyday language and say it like it is e.g. Rather than “bed reduction”, how about “reducing the numbers of people who are in hospital and don’t need to be there”. Instead of “Cohort”, “that group of people who…” Shorter isn’t always better.”

We agree. When we go to meetings, we often don’t know what is being talked about because organisations like the NHS have words and phrases which mean a certain thing to them, and are not in plain English. This makes it hard for people who use services to get involved in trying to change things.

The letters also say: “We think that if people can’t change the words they use, how can they be trusted to change the way they do things?”

Promoting participation starts with thinking about and changing some of the words that are used.

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