Semiahmoo Peninsula self-advocates are weighing in on the power of language, following a Chilliwack school trustee’s use of the ‘R-word.’
The comment by Barry Neufeld – made in a Nov. 19 Facebook post aimed at three Black Press Media employees – has prompted early release of a video addressing harmful language that was created by members of the Self Advocates of Semiahmoo (SAS) as part of the group’s ongoing efforts to “make change through positive relationships.”
Dubbed Don’t Be That Person, the video (shot by Sea to Sky Media) is about best practices for speaking to and about people with diverse abilities, and features self advocates Jeevan Basra, Danielle Burns, Krista Milne and Michaela Robinson.
Milne, 33, said Monday that many people don’t understand how powerful words can be, and the impact that they can have.
“Language is really important because… words mean something,” Milne told Peace Arch News.
In the video, Milne enters a coffee shop where Basra and Burns are talking about their weekend. Milne uses the R-word to describe her own weekend, at which point, the video cuts sharply to Robinson, who asks for a “more respectful” choice of words.
“When you use that word, you’re making fun of people with diversabilities,” Robinson continues.
In a retake that follows, Milne rewords her statement to say, “You won’t believe what happened to me over the weekend.”
That language, Robinson notes, is “not putting anyone down.”
“The diverse-ability movement is important. Let’s make positive changes, so everyone feels important,” she says.
Burns told PAN that she’s had firsthand experience with the R-word, and that she was “kind of disgusted” to hear of the incident in Chilliwack.
“I’ve been called that word, and it’s not a nice word to be called. I honestly think this person… should apologize,” she said.
Burns said the SAS video is even more important in light of the incident.
“We try to educate people not to use this word,” she said.
Basra, who attends Sullivan Heights Secondary, said learning of the word’s recent use made her feel disrespected, and that she was surprised that somebody in a position of power would have to be educated around such language.
Don’t Be That Person was originally created for use in Equally Empowered presentations in schools – which share “positive messaging on how all people can: self-advocate (stand up for themselves), help their community, and help others.”
Its concept came from Semiahmoo House Society summer student Catherine Grimme, after she noticed a gap in education when it comes to the disability movement and the capabilities of people who have developmental disabilities.
The video also complements a report on language that was recently released by the Self Advocate Leadership Network (SALN).
The 32-page report – distributed to nearly 100 self-advocate groups, politicians, disability sector organizations and community groups across B.C. – cites a “never-ending struggle” by people with disabilities to be heard and listened to.
“Over and over, we are asked to ‘come to the table,’ be a part of a consultation,’ ‘asked what we think and our opinion’ about language… but nothing seems to change,’” reads part of an explanation for why the report was created.
“We understand language is different all over the world, but there are basic principles of respect, kindness and inclusion.”
SALN co-creator Alexander Magnussen described Don’t Be That Person as “quite different from SAS’s typical approach to awareness building,” and said for that reason, SAS wanted to ensure it was properly promoted and given proper context when it was released.
“With current events, SAS feels that the video needs to be released now.”
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