Inclusive language?

Walk into any educational setting and you’ll hear phrases like, developmentally delayed, differently abled. In the typical hospital you’ll hear the same conditions referred to as developmentally impaired, handicapped. Inclusive language (also known as affirmative language or person-centric language) has taken hold in certain areas of society, but unfortunately not in most acute care environments.


It hit me hard when a geneticist was talking to my patient’s parents and referred to the baby as “defective.” We’ve all heard medical professionals refer to certain things as defective – a heart valve, a gene mutation. But a baby? It rubbed me the wrong way. Why is it that in light of all the medical hoopla somehow compassion and compassionate discourse go out the window? Perhaps it has to do with acceptability of language? Maybe it’s that at the beginning of a diagnosis the conversation can be rough around the edges? Whereas farther down the line people have had more time to process and filter the information?

I really do want to know what the difference is. Maybe it’s just that certain industries (education, HR…) adequately train professionals in thoughtful use of affirming language, whereas medical professionals are trained purely in medical discourse.

Certainly there should be standards. Such as, referring to a baby (or any person) as defective is just not right in any circumstance. I’d love to know if there are standards out there. Anyone?


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