What does inclusive language look like?

I thought I’d revisit this issue, as I think a lot about the language I want to use in my research, and have had various discussions about language and inclusion over the last year.  Today seemed like a good to blog about it, since BBC Ouch are also talking about it – Viewpoint: Is it time to stop using the word “disability”?   The Social Model of Inclusion was first introduced to me in 2012 when I had my first Paragon encounter.  That same week, I was introduced to the principles of Universal Design, and I’ve been questioning everything I see and hear since…

Excerpt from “Inclusive Adventures in Mumbai”
(Originally posted by Diljeet Bhachu, 06-Mar-2015 on TheGither)
Last month, I took a short break from PhD-ing to go to Mumbai, India, with Paragon Music, an 
inclusive arts organisation in Glasgow.  In this post I want to ask some key questions that arose 
during the trip - please share your thoughts/answers!

The aim of the trip to Mumbai was to engage with ADAPT, an NGO whose aim is "to create an 
inclusive disability friendly nation".  ADAPT (Able Disabled All People Together) have three main centres in Mumbai - in Colaba (the original ADAPT centre, now delivering inclusive education 
from nursery through to school-leaving), Bandra (where we also stayed, alongside international 
teaching students who are learning about inclusive practice), and Chembur (a skills development 
centre for adults).  We ran music workshops with around 200 children and adults over the course of our stay, working with 3-4 groups at each centre.  These workshops exemplify Paragon's 
inclusive approach to music-making and musical engagement. In Scotland, Paragon works on 
the basis of the social model of inclusion - a way of thinking and doing that is quite embedded in 
policy at home.  In India, things are quite different - religious and cultural outlooks have left 
disabled people hidden and excluded from society, and on a practical level, the task of getting out and about is virtually impossible for many due to the condition of pavements and roads in 

QUESTION: Language – How much does it matter what words we use to talk about disability?  

There is a stark contrast in the terminology used in India and Scotland – we consider most of the terminology we have heard during the trip outdated but these words are accepted and understood in India.  Perhaps it is because they way they are understood that they are used, rather than out of ignorance or disregard for the disabled, or in an offensive manner as would be implied if they were used in the UK, so I am interested to know how and why terminology changes.  ADAPT was originally called the Spastics Society of India, when it was set up in 1972, and this name links to the UK’s own Spastic’s Society around that time.  ADAPT is still often referred to as the Spastic’s Society, even by the founder of the organisation herself.  This made me question the importance we place on words.  It seems that it is the shift in what words mean, or the way they are used, rather than the words themselves, that leads to new, more “PC” terminology.  We did meet several people in Mumbai who use the same terminology we do in Scotland, consciously aware of with the social model of inclusion and the language it promotes.  Here’s an interesting Wikipedia article that specifically discusses the use of the word “spastic”, with reference to ADAPT/SSI.

Earlier this year, I attended Disability Equality training that Paragon hosted.  This also included a lengthy discussion about language – what is useful language when talking about disability, difference, needs?  The language preferences according to different models of disability/inclusion have also been discussed at events hosted by Drake Music Scotland, to look at access to music education and the industry.  

On the one hand, it seems that words are really important – “dis” will always have a “deficit” connotation – yet recent experiences have shown that sometimes words are just a bunch of letters that have a common understanding attached to them.  Further, “disability” as a word can have very different meanings depending on the model through which it is used – social vs medical model for example.  Meanings are socially constructed and can change. Where does this leave us?


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