Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Word is A Word is A Word!

Words do matter! Word choices matter! It matters if the hearer thinks one definition and the speaker has another meaning in mind! NOT much communication happens in that case!
Recently Dr. James Dobson featured on his radio program a couple who discussed "Raising a Handicapped Child."
Handicapped ...... Special Needs ....... Disabled ........... Affected by Disability ...... and more. Which is the best practices term?
No criticism intended or implied to either Dr. Dobson or Focus on the Family or the couple interviewed - just some personal observations related to my journey in disability ministry:
  • In the last six years my thinking has undergone a radical transformation in relation both to individuals affected by disabilities, to myself in relationship to them and to HOW and WHY and WHEN the Church of Jesus Christ should and must work out the mandate to be inclusive to all!
  • Luke 14:12-14 is the core passage from Scripture which addresses this concern. AND the fact that Jesus spent almost His entire ministry hanging with just such individuals is both inescapable and compelling as a mandate!
  • Terms matter - What is the best term to use for this discussion? Frankly I'm still studying on that one. To quote a famous someone, my thinking is "still evolving" evaluating terms and process related to special needs ministry.

Some years ago I read an article in a publication from a nationally known special needs ministry. They actually prefer and advocate "affected by disability." The article described the difference between "handicapped" and "disability." I have never forgotten the distinction:

We are ALL handicapped in one way or another. To use the article's example - I am 5'5" tall. It is impossible for me to reach the top of my kitchen cabinets without some assistance. That assistance may come in the form of a chair or stool or climbing up on the counter top or even something else. I overcome my handicap with a "tool" intended to increase or augment my height.

A disability is a lack of function in life which may be physical, mental, emotional or even spiritual. We are all disabled in one way or another if we generally include "brokenness" as a qualifying category. There is wisdom, however, in having a "best practices" term related to individuals dealing with the wide range of physical, mental and emotional diagnoses or "labels" (for want of a better term). There is significant discussion about hidden disabilities in this "field." We all have hidden disabilities in the sense that all of us are broken in one way or another until Jesus makes all things new on an awesome future day! But I think we need to be careful not to appear to minimize the HUGE pain experienced by individuals and families whose lives are affected by disability 24/7 with real diagnoses and needs.

I don't pretend to know the precise best practices term. I leave that determination to minds much senior to mine in pay grade. What I do know is that there needs to be open discussion about words related to describing disabilities so we communicate without doing harm! My friend Dr. Steve Grcevich of Key Ministry recently blogged his own thoughts on this very subject.

The ultimate goal is to find and use terms that are inclusive, respectful, clear, person first, relational and effectively communicative because words DO matter! There are far too many wedge words in life for the church before the watching world not to take the meaning of words seriously!

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