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3 Ways to be A Disability Advocate

This last weekend I went to a bachelorette party with a bunch of people who do not work in Special Education. There was a pretty good age range, backgrounds, cities they lived in, cities they were from, different personality types, and jobs. Some of them work with children, most work with adults. Some work with personal clients, some work with organizations. Some had big teams, some had small. Like I said, a lot of differences.

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The best part about this group was that they were all very respectful. They all were great listeners, they thrived on discussions, and they weren’t afraid to ask questions if they didn’t understand something. Something I will forever be working on and a favorite human trait.

During our long weekend getaway, there were only a couple of times that made me stop and reflect on myself.

First, was the word “spaz.” Someone used it to describe themselves and then I used it to describe a reaction I had to something that startled me. Two different instances, but when I described myself as “spaz,” I awkwardly tried to fill it with another word, which was somewhere along the lines of, “I mean, wow that really startled me.”

Later I was having a conversation with one of the guests and was talking about how challenging inclusive language can be at times. We discussed abbreviations that have become negative, like “SPED” and how there doesn’t always seem to be a way to fix it. She explained how her job calls the special education department Spectrum Specialists now, but the abbreviation still is said to recognize that group of teachers. Instead of SPED it is now SPEC. Will we just keep updating our language until “inclusion” just is?

I was talking to another person who was saying to me that I should call people out when they say something so I can educate them. And as someone who can so genuinely say that these new friends of mine are the kindest, most understanding people. I couldn’t do it. I call myself an ally but have such a hard time stopping the conversation to tell someone that the slang they used can be offensive to someone.

However, I found other ways that give me the opportunity to educate others and keep that ally badge I so proudly wear. And anyone, especially if you feel uncomfortable with confrontation, can do any of these.

1. Educate

My top tool of being the ally I strive to be is through education. I may not call you out the second you say a derogatory word, but I will do whatever I can to give you the information as simple and entertaining as possible. If it’s posting on social media or attempting the vlog life, I try to give all of the information I can for you.

2. Find a time to bring it up later

I will always remember that time you said the r-word casually in front of me. If you didn’t see my body jolt and my face lose its smile, then you will probably hear me talk about how language is important in my field and then I will dive into a made-up story about someone saying a different derogatory word and how awkward I felt once they said it. If they still don’t understand my passiveness, I will then bring it up VERY, VERY casually. Saying some like, “like spaz, that actually jabs at people with Spastic Cerebral Palsy, which is the medical diagnosis.” (Yes, I say ‘like’ a lot and yes sometimes this step still gets missed).

3. Ask questions and answer questions

Something that I cannot stress enough is answering the questions people have, admitting when you don’t know something, and asking them to reflect. These conversations can really stick with people and can be the turning point of them to start using that kind of language.

I also love to recommend these books to anybody that is willing to listen to me talk this long about changing people’s mindsets.

Bottom line, language is important. No matter how you’re using it or who you are using it with. Don’t say the r-word because your friend who works with people with disabilities isn’t there to hear it. Practice what you preach. Practice what you want the people in your community to act like.

Do you practice any of these? Are there other tools that work best for you? Let me know below!

Inclusion starts with you

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