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Why the language we use matters

Language matters is the message of a video from Purple Orange, a social profit organisation from South Australia who are on a mission to make sure people with disability get a fair go.

The video grew out of the work that Purple Orange does with the South Australian government on disability inclusion training. Language was quickly identified as a necessary topic to cover in the training. Belle Owen is the project lead on Purple Orange’s disability inclusion training project. The language used around disability is something she’s passionate about.

“Language is something that is generally free to adjust,” Belle told Inform. “And I think also the ideas around why people choose specific language is quite foundational. So, it really has the opportunity to influence people’s broader thinking about disability when they’re making conscious choices about language.”

“Language is something that is, it’s everywhere… we’re using it, we’re taking part in it every day. But without thinking about it we can be perpetuating negativity. We can be, you know, reinforcing stereotypes and myths and things like that. And just having a small think about it, and reframing and using considered language and respectful language, it has that flow on effect to everything else.”

“I think it makes you stop and think about other things. And it’s just such an easy way to get people to start considering the biases that they have about disability.”

Reclaiming and reshaping identity

Co-design was at the centre of the video. It’s something Belle says is central to the work Purple Orange does.

“Everything that Purple Orange does is co-designed by the beneficiaries, the end users, relevant stakeholders and people with disability, wherever people with disability fit in that. Sometimes they’re the end users and sometimes they’re the beneficiaries.”

It wasn’t difficult for Purple Orange to find people willing and happy to be a part of the project.

“They’re all people who are doing the work,” Belle said. “Who are, you know, in some way or another have done advocacy before. And so, it wasn’t really difficult to find those people because I think there is an appetite to be heard. There is an appetite to be able to like to have the opportunity to educate.”

Putting people with disability at the centre of this conversation and letting them lead that conversation is something Belle says is incredibly important.

“For such a long time, the language and culture about disability was determined by non-disabled people. So, like at this time, where the disability rights movement is like, we’re getting momentum and things so having that agency over how you refer to yourself, or how other people refer to you, and the way that you speak about disability, it’s really empowering as well. It’s such a good place for us as a community to start reclaiming identity and shaping like, our cultural identity as a broader group.”

Respectful language is the goal

While the Language Matters video was originally created as part of a disability inclusion training project, it has the potential to have a far greater impact than the workplace.

“The medium of video, and I guess to another degree podcast because that’s another thing that Purple Orange focuses on, [means] that you’re kind of not having to tell your story over and over again. Which is something that the disability community really understands really well that you kind of feel like you’re telling and telling and telling and telling, and maybe not making a difference. Where this is such a great opportunity for people to click a button. And then someone else is learning.” Belle said.

“I’m glad that the resource now exists. Because there’s also that real kind of intense debate within community itself about person first and identity first language. There’s also that notion of language almost as a binary as you have to choose one and one has to be right. So, I think a really important point that the video raises is that it’s such an individual choice. And the reasons for people choosing particular language and things like that is, is what’s relevant. More so than actually the language that they choose. And I think also gives that idea of like respectful language is really the goal. Rather than having some kind of formulaic answer to the way that you should speak to and about people with disabilities.”

Learn more about the work of Purple Orange.

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