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The Power of Words: Choosing Respect and Inclusion

Jolene MacDonald Portrait
By: Jolene MacDonald
March 22, 2024

Sticks and stones with the text Stick and Stones will break my bones overlayed on top.


“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”


Many of us are familiar with this childhood chant. We also know it was something you said to mask the pain. Words have a big impact on others. They can either uplift and empower people or hurt and marginalize them.


It is important to understand the harm caused by disability-specific derogatory terms such as midget, spaz, retard or moron. Not using these words doesn’t mean you are losing your right to speak freely. Simply, word use changes over time. As empathetic humans, we adjust our language to respect the people who are impacted by our word choices.


This blog aims to highlight the importance of using respectful language and promoting a culture of inclusivity. It also aims to educate others about why not to use these terms and how they have nothing to do with you but everything to do with those around you.


Understanding the Impact: Words have the power to shape how people feel about themselves and how others perceive them. Many disability-specific terms have historically been used to demean and dehumanize people. Poor word choices reinforce stereotypes and marginalize people.
Showing Respect: Respect is vital in fostering healthy communication and relationships. By choosing respectful language, we create an inclusive and understanding environment. Instead of using offensive terms, addressing individuals with dignity and respect is crucial, acknowledging and honouring their identity.
Embracing Diversity: Our society thrives on its diversity, and inclusive language plays a key role in celebrating this diversity. Avoiding derogatory terms helps create a safe space where everyone feels valued and accepted. Embracing diversity fosters empathy, understanding, and promotes social harmony.
Language Evolution: Language changes over time, and it is important to adapt our vocabulary as we become more aware of the impact certain words can have. By being open to learning and understanding different perspectives, we can contribute to a more inclusive society.
Alternative Language: Choosing alternative, inclusive language is an effective way to demonstrate respect and understanding. For example, instead of using midget, choose "person of short stature" or "little person" as these are preferred terms decided by people who are of short stature. Similarly, a person would rather be told they have a mental health issue than told they are crazy. A person who deals with spasms due to paralysis does not want someone to be called a spaz if they have a moment of uncoordinated behaviour. Here’s a great resource to review:


Here are some key points to explain to someone why words matter. Sometimes, people get angry because they feel they are being told they can’t use certain words. They can feel like their freedom of speech is being taken away. It can make them so mad that they want to use those poor word choices even more.


Keep the message short and simple when talking to someone who feels this way.


Try saying something like the following:

Using respectful language is about treating others with kindness and dignity. It's not about losing freedom. Words evolve, and avoiding derogatory terms shows we care about people's feelings. It's about building a more inclusive society where everyone feels valued. Let's choose words that unite and respect others.


Our words also have the ability to heal, unite, and uplift. Together, we can build a world where everyone feels valued, accepted, and celebrated for who they are.


If you want to chat more about this topic or learning opportunities, make sure to contact us. You can email

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