There is a long history in developmental services of examining how we say things and how we talk about the people we support. How we talk about people reflects and shapes how we think. In turn, these attitudes show up in the supports we provide, for good or bad.

One phrase that can still be heard frequently is referring to the people we support as “our individuals.” This phrase may come from a place of care in the same way we refer to “our friends” or “our family”. However, the people we support don’t belong to us. We don’t own their achievements or their concerns, they do. The phrase “our individuals” fails to acknowledge their autonomy. When we speak this way, we may feel free to exert control over the person.

“Our individuals” can also become another way of labeling people. We seem to drift into new labels whenever we give up an old one (consider the history of the words inmate, ward, patient, consumer, client). When we feel the need to label someone, to mark their difference from us, we are not acknowledging that person’s shared humanity. When we speak this way, we may stop short of helping the person participate fully in community life.

As Aspire integrates a person-centered approach into all our work, we are examining the language that we use with the people we support and with each other. As a community, we can talk about what our words mean and help each other choose to speak in ways that respect and honor everyone in our community.

Interested in learning to be more person-centered? Download the 'Five Person-Centered Practices to Bring to Your Work' infographic below to print off and hang in your office or space.

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How You Say It: Why Words Matter