Language matters. Why words hurt

Our Chief Executive Ruth Owen addresses some of the responses we've received in reaction to our Words Hurt campaign.

Language does matter to disabled people, and words can indeed hurt. We shouldn’t shy away from that.

Some overtly offensive terms clearly need consigning to the past, and we all know a few of those without repeating these here. But it’s also about previously acceptable terms, clarity, context and the right of disabled people not to have terminology assigned to them. It’s about voice.

Yesterday we published some research that highlighted what disabled people thought, and some of their daily experiences in the UK. Three quarters (73%) of disabled people said that more needs to be done for non-disabled people to understand that their words offend.

This research got brought to life by the brilliant rapper, Kray- Z Legz.

The message behind our campaign

Some media commentators took the opportunity of early misreporting to wage war on “wokeism” and “language police” completely missing the point.

Let’s clear one thing up. There’s no issue with the term “blind” for instance but there is when collective grouping is applied, “the blind”, “the disabled” – which erases the individual. And in the case of “blind”, “visually impaired” may be better in some circumstances rather than a catch-all “blind”, particularly after considering around 80 per cent of people with sight loss have some vision. The government, disability organisations and others agree.

It’s striking looking at some responses to the launch that non-disabled people have such strong views about the language around disability, rather than thinking more about what disabled people may actually want. Who knew talking about moving on from “able-bodied” and similar phrases would or could court controversy, despite the issues many disabled people have with the term.

The launch of our campaign was intended to start a conversation. Sadly, too many seem intent on closing it down.