A Comprehensive Cerebral Palsy Resource

The Power of Language When Discussing Cerebral Palsy

Story written by: Katie DePasquale

The Power of Language When Discussing Cerebral Palsy

Although a lot of barriers have been broken down when it comes to disabilities and how people who have them are treated in the United States, there remains a significant, subtle one in place: the barrier of language. That old phrase about sticks and stones breaking bones and words not hurting is absolutely untrue when it comes to the ways in which people speak about disability. Although the cruelest words may have fallen out of favor, there remain many people who employ phrasing such as “he suffers from cerebral palsy” or “she is afflicted with cerebral palsy and other ailments.” Using words like “suffers” and “afflicted” and “ailments” is not only inaccurate, it paints a picture of a person who is less than whole. That is quite simply not the case. People with cerebral palsy can live full and happy lives despite the challenges they face because of their disorder. Cerebral palsy does not necessarily mean a lifetime of pain; it is not necessarily tied to any intellectual, mental, or emotional difficulties; and having it does not automatically make someone either pitiable or inspirational. The fact is that people with cerebral palsy are people first, just as anyone else is, and they are not defined solely by their cerebral palsy. The more open and inclusive your language when you talk to or about them, the better. Whether the accepting language or the accepting attitude comes first, the two often follow one upon the other, and society can certainly use more of both.