man with ds working

We all know that language is a very powerful thing. It can be used to convey every emotion, describe in detail any situation, bring us joy and bring us to tears. How often, though, do we really think about what we are saying? The words we select, the tone we use, the word we emphasize, and sometimes the silence we choose instead. Our vocabulary is influenced by our environment from the time we are born. The people who surround us teach us words, our schools teach us what they mean and our friends teach us the latest slang.

If you are reading this, chances are you know someone with a disability. Growing up with my brother, I heard the gamut of words used to describe people with disabilities, and it seems that the vocabulary is changing for the better. There is a shift from terms such as “mentally retarded” to mental disability or developmental disability. Not only does this take away the stigma of what “retarded” conjures in the minds of many people, it also gives a more dignified title to the challenges these special people face. It doesn’t hide them in a corner with a myriad of others under one generic title; it brings each individual to the forefront. What is even better, in my opinion, is not a “title”, but a conversation.

Growing up with Jeff, who has Down syndrome, I heard the word “retarded” a lot. To this day, I loathe the term, regardless of whether it is being used to describe a person, a mark you got an exam, the driver in front of you or a situation you don’t like. What I would have welcomed is not a casual tossing of the term in his direction, but an introduction of who he is and how he is different. I also do not hesitate to correct people if they choose to use this term, in today’s society with the complexity of words our language has to offer, there always is a better choice.

By Joanna Redfern, Volunteer Blogger

For more information about Joanna, please go to:

Semiahmoo House Society, a non-profit organization located in Surrey/White Rock, exists to provide quality services and supports to people with disabilities and their families in the community. 

The Semiahmoo Foundation, located in Surrey/White Rock, exists to fund, support and enhance the programs and services delivered by Semiahmoo House Society.

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