Skip to content

Musings on language

I was listening to a good book at the weekend and came upon a passage where two of the characters were discussing the probable impending death of one of them from cancer. He noted that he didn’t want people saying he had ‘lost the battle’, as though this implied some moral failing on his part; as if dieing were a weakness. This lead me to wonder how often we all parrot what we hear, without considering the implications or messages we are sending?

Examples in the disability sector include the constant referral by media and other commentators to people not simply having, but ‘suffering’ a range of ‘afflictions’. People being ‘legally blind’, when there is no legislative imperative governing registration of vision impairment or blindness in New Zealand. How about the old chestnut of people being ‘confined’ to a wheelchair or to bed, or being ‘wheelchair bound’. Quite apart from the Victorian flavour this invokes, it is of course completely antithetical to the truth. Wheelchairs do not confine or bind, they provide freedom for those who use them.

Another example relates to disability-employment, which is as many of you know, very close to my heart and which I hope to begin PhD research on next year. The example is that of job descriptions, particularly though not exclusively in the State Sector. I continually come upon both vacancy listings and job descriptions which include a driver’s license as a ‘must have’ requirement. Sometimes this requirement is odd given the job it relates to, like the position of Office Administrator (who could use public transport on the very rare occasion s/he gets out of the office). Other times this requirement is darn right silly, like the position of call centre worker. Really? I thought this was a phone based role.

So why do people insist on driver’s licenses when advertising and/or putting together position descriptions for various roles? The answer is, because everyone else does it.

We all need to stop and think about what we say and what we do, and question why we say or do it. So next time you go to trot out some mindless platitude (yes we all do this), stop and think about whether it is really your view or just something you are repeating.