It’s a Thin Line

between explaining the facts about daily life with a spinal cord injury, and evoking self-pity.  Word choice, attitude, and presentation can make all the difference.

As advocates for a cure, we want to speak from a position of strength.  This means we arm ourselves not only with knowledge but with an understanding of the power of specific words.  Let me cite a couple of examples.

If you have a spinal cord injury or are a family member, do you see yourself as a “victim” or as a “survivor”?  At U2FP we made a mistake early on by saying that we represented “victims”; we were gently corrected by several observers who pointed out that “survivors” has a much more positive connotation.  A quick dictionary check shows that “survivor” means “somebody with great powers of endurance” or “somebody who overcomes a traumatic experience”.  A “victim”, on the other hand, is defined as a “helpless person”.  The word associations speak volumes.

Another more subtle but equally important distinction comes when we use the words “handicapped” or “disabled” instead of “accessible”.  These terms are used to describe everything from a parking spot to a hotel room to event seating.   Think about it.  The words “handicapped” and “disabled” put a label (with negative implications) on the user, whereas “accessible” characterizes the service provided by a vendor, who assumes the burden of responsibility.

When you call to book hotel accommodations, you can ask for either a “handicapped” (my problem), or “accessible” (your problem) room.  Personally I would like to see the term “handicapped” eliminated from our community’s vocabulary.  The word diminishes us.

In my previous post I talked about keeping an “Elevator Speech” in your hip pocket as an advocacy tool.  Equally important is your own personal cultivation of language that speaks positively and forcefully about your situation.

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