Words Can Hurt: Showing Respect and Value Through Language

A lot of meaning can be packed into a few words. Understanding the difference between which words hurt and which words empower can be important in changing how others perceive people with Down syndrome, how people with Down syndrome perceive themselves and how society perceives ideas of equality for the differently-abled.

As award-winning actor, parent-advocate, and Global Down Syndrome Foundation International Spokesperson John C. McGinley has said, there is no difference between derogatory words used to label ethnic or religious minorities and the words used to label people with Down syndrome. Yet despite our sensitivity to racially and religiously derogatory terms, society hasn’t been as quick to embrace empowering language for the differently-abled.

So how do we ensure that our words reflect our intentions?

The Global Down Syndrome Foundation’s new website offers a section on Words Can Hurt: a guide to how some offensive language came into use, a primer on what words to avoid, and reasons for embracing people-first language.

Have a good story about how you’ve found ways to use empowering language or inspired it in others? We’d love to hear from you.

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