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Labels - Choosing the terminology we use

Blog by Jon Michaelis, CEO Neater Solutions Ltd. on terminology

You may think labels are unimportant but to many, words matter. Neater Solutions has an ethos of inclusivity, celebrating diversity and combatting ableism. Adopting inclusive language fits with our mission to provide equipment that gives people greater independence, dignity and choice.

We develop equipment to enable people with different abilities to lead more independent and enjoyable lives. We try to use terminology that is both accurate and respectful to our clients. An example: our viscous damped manual Neater Eater is suitable for people with upper limb ataxia or tremor. Their movement impairment may be caused by conditions such as multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy or head injuries.

Here, I have used words like: “impairment” and “condition”, I could have used “living with”.

We refer to our clients as people because that's what they are! They may need to use the equipment because they have certain diagnosed conditions such as MND or spinal injuries.

We try to avoid terms such as "suffering from" or "challenged" because we consider those terms to make assumptions about people's subjective experience. That is their experience, to be viewed and dealt with as they choose, it is not ours.

There are debates amongst people with their own lived experiences and amongst academics about terminology such as: people living with movement impairments, people with disabilities, disabled people, physically disabled, people with learning difficulties, people with different needs, handicapped people etc. To what extent are people disabled by society's attitudes and lack of access rather than by their diagnosed medical or developmental conditions?

People have different and understandable attitudes to different terminologies, so we try to avoid terms that some people might object to. An example of an emotive term is "handicapped". Many believe it originated from begging (cap in hand). According to Snopes, this is not the origin (the origin is from a hand-in-cap game), nevertheless, we understand why some might find it offensive.

Neater Eaters help people feed themselves; to get food into their mouths. Neater Eaters don't directly help people to chew and swallow food but they do help people to eat a meal independently. So, Neater Eaters are "feeding aids". However, the word “feeding” is more commonly used when a person feeds someone else rather than when they are eating, feeding themselves. Also, some people are uncomfortable with using the word feeding as they associate it with feeding children etc.. I am told this distinction applies more strongly in other languages such as German. Neater Eaters do aid eating, so we are happy to call them “eating aids”.

PS: A consequence of us being careful with the terms we use is that most of our website is devoid of some words likely to be used in search engines and we have often wondered how to address the issue. (If this is how you landed on this page, we are happy to welcome you! Please explore the rest of our website.)"

Further reading: the United Nations has some useful “Disability-Inclusive Language Guidelines”.


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