Language, dementia and respect

Kelly VincentPublished yesterday in DPS News, the Honourable Ms Kelly Vincent MLC, instructs on the use of language and improving communication, with tips and advice from the disAbility sector. It is perfectly aligned with my thoughts on this topic. This C-word campaign is also about person centred care – and respectful communication, and about the rights of people in a specific sectors – e.g. disAbility, aged care, or dementia – to have a say about what is appropriate language.

Hallelujah is about all I have to say on that!!!

Well, other than, please don’t call me a victim or sufferer…

Ms Vincent attended an event last year that I was also at, and was shocked a carer had been asked to present their story, and yet a person with dementia had not. She’s a tad feisty, and clever, and so during question time of the group, she asked was there anyone in attendance who could speak as a consumer. Naturally, I was there, actually only be default (long story, for another blog), and so was invited to speak to this group about my own story. It never ceases to amaze me, that even now, in our ‘enlightened’ society driven by human rights and equality,  people with dementia are not front and centre in the discussions about them.

Anyway, please read the tips about the C-word (Communication) below:

DPS News: The ‘C’ word campaign

“A newly launched disability campaign may also assist aged care providers to better communicate with, and about, their older clients.

The campaign, titled ‘The C Word’, was last week launched by political party, Dignity for Disability.

Although the campaign is primarily a set of straightforward guidelines for achieving respectful and meaningful communication with those living with disabilities, party leader, Kelly Vincent, tells DPS News the guidelines can also benefit aged care providers in communicating with their clients.

“The way we ‘label’ or talk about clients can say a lot about what we think about them,” Ms Vincent says.

“As a young person, it’s somewhat difficult for me to speak on this with authority, but I do know elderly people who despise being called ‘sweetie’ or ‘love’ and so on just because of their age. It is vital that service providers see their relationship with their clients as one of equality,” she adds.

Aged 21 at the time of election, Ms Vincent, who has cerebral palsy, is reportedly the youngest member of the Parliament of South Australia and the youngest woman elected to any Australian parliament.

By speaking about people in respectful terms, especially those that they identify with most, we show that we recognise and respect their humanity and their autonomy. If you are giving professional services to a client, of course it’s beneficial that you show them respect because they will be more likely to remain your client.”

The guidelines may also help professionals to remember that their clients are “individuals”; however, Ms Vincent adds the guidelines are by no means suitable for everyone.

“It’s important that service providers have the respect to check in with their clients about how they like to be communicated with.”

Every time disrespectful or inappropriate language about people with disabilities is used in the media, or by politicians, or in general conversation, Ms Vincent says it “reinforces untrue stereotypes and makes it more likely that we will be discriminated against”.

The communication guide offers some of the simple ways to communicate with people with disabilities and what kind of language is appropriate to use when discussing disability issues.

Dignity for Disability is calling for the guidelines to be disseminated through government channels.

“If you remember that the person comes first – we are not defined by our disability or age – that often helps when constructing terms to describe a disability. It also is useful to remember that each person is an expert on themselves, so the best way to find out how a person likes to communicate or be spoken to is by asking them,” Ms Vincent says.

Dignity for Disability will be distributing the guidelines to the media and through government departments, asking that all staff consider these ideals during their work.

Communicating ‘with’ people with disabilities

Next time you’re chatting with or interviewing a person with disabilities, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Remember the person you’re communicating with is the expert on themselves. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!
  • If you’re talking to and/or about a person with disability, keep looking at and speaking or signalling directly to that person, even if they have an interpreter or communication assistant. It is only polite to maintain your attention on the person you are speaking with or about.
  • Don’t assume that a person’s disability makes them unable to understand you or communicate with you. Speak at a normal volume and pace, in your usual manner.
  • Get on a level with the person you’re communicating with. You don’t conduct other conversations standing over the person you’re talking to, so there’s no need to change the rules for people with disabilities.
  • If you’re having trouble understanding what a person with disabilities is communicating, don’t be embarrassed to ask for clarification – this is likely something that has happened before and the person may well have strategies to deal with it.

Communicating ‘about’ people with disabilities

If you’re communicating about disability issues or people with disabilities here are a few golden rules to live by:

  • Ask yourself if it’s necessary to identify the person as having a disability. If you’re preparing a document on community gardening in which a person with muscular dystrophy provided comment on the best type of trees to plant, their disability is probably irrelevant.
  • Always put the person first. When describing someone with a disability they are not totally defined by their disability, such as in the phrase “wheelchair bound”. Instead they are a “wheelchair user”.
  • Avoid using pitying or sensationalist terms. Most people with disabilities don’t see themselves as “debilitated” or even “inspiring” – they just see themselves as people much like anyone else.”

Find out more about ‘The C Word’ campaign and its guidelines.

7 thoughts on “Language, dementia and respect

  1. Pingback: Dementia in the media | Dementia Alliance International

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