Making the Right Choice

In the TV advert for car company ‘Cinch’, Rylan Clark-Neal advises ‘Mandy’ to make sure she’s made the right choice, before adding, knowingly, “Because sometimes we don’t, do we.” We can all make wrong choices in all sorts of ways. I have and I’m sure you can think of occasions when you have too.

What about wrong choices in the words that we use, especially words that might relate to additional needs or disability?

It’s about the lexicon of words and phrases that we can commonly use but which can be so toxic for people with additional needs or disabilities, and their families. My thanks to Canadian film maker, actor, and TV host @nicolestamp for recently getting me thinking more about this.

Here are a few examples of things we can commonly say but shouldn’t; along with some more appropriate alternatives to use instead:

Don’t say                                                                                  Examples to say instead

“I turned a blind eye to that.” (also “deaf ear”)                        “I chose to ignore that.”

“They are crippled by debt.”                                                             “They are struggling with debt.”

“That’s lame.” (not a common UK phrase, but increasing)     “That’s awkward/not cool.”

“That is insane/crazy.”                                                                        “That is wild/chaotic.”

“That is dumb.”                                                                                     “That is foolish.”

“A little bit OCD.”                                                                                 “Very organised/hygienic.”

“A little bit Autistic.” (used in many different contexts)           No alternative, just don’t say it!

I’m sure you can think of many that I’ve missed. Let’s treat negative disability metaphors in the same way that we would treat negative gender, racial, or cultural metaphors. For example, these phrases should disappear from our language, they have no place there. However, this will only happen if we make a conscious effort to do so. Let’s make our language inclusive and remove the toxic phrases that can reinforce negative stereotypes and cause so much hurt.

If you want to explore this topic in more depth, here is a link to a helpful article by Sara Nović on the BBC website:

So, let’s cut out the negative disability metaphors and change our language for the better. As Rylan knowingly puts it, let’s “make sure we make the right choice, because sometimes we don’t, do we?”


About Mark Arnold

Mark heads up Urban Saints pioneering additional needs ministry programme and is co-founder of the ‘Additional Needs Alliance’, a learning and support community. He is a ‘Churches for All’ partner, a member of both the ‘Council for Disabled Children’ and the ‘Living Fully Network’, and serves on the executive for ‘Children Matter!’ Most importantly, he is dad to James, a 17-year-old Autistic boy with Learning Difficulties and Epilepsy.