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Words Matter

Picture of the front of The National Leadership Consortium publication.
Jack Butler, Director of Person-Centered Supports and a Direct Support Professional (DSP) for Achieva, contributed to a bulletin created and distributed by The National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities. Below is an excerpt of his message.

cover of the National Leadership Consortium BulletinThroughout my 28 years in the human service field, I have heard terms like “choice,” “control,” and person-centered” presented to people with disabilities. Many times, the understanding of the terms by stakeholders (including program leaders) was reflective of the current culture, compliance standards, and personal beliefs that existed during that time. The terms, however, can have negative consequences when misused. When misused, “choice” can be presented as, “It’s your choice,” used as a last resort phrase used when all redirections from an undesired behavior have failed. “He chose a sheltered workshop” sounded a lot different than “She or he was placed in a program where people with disabilities are segregated and devalued based on their eligibility.” There were occurrences where I have witnessed human service workers using choice as a “natural consequence.” The result leads to some type of negative outcome or service added to a plan. 

Words matter. The campaign to end the “R” word and using the word “people” instead of “client” may help facilitate change. However, the change is not sustainable if real action is not taken to correct and prevent devaluing systems and beliefs. The problem that leads to the misuse of terms seems to lie within the true understanding of the person a human service provider is assisting and the system that funds the support. One term and one approach will not meet everyone’s expectations. And funding programs that devalue people will only create new terms and goals that are never fully realized. 

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