November 22, 2009

Putting People First

So the other night I was catching up on all of my shows on DVR and since I was doing other things at the time, I listened to most of the commercials instead of fast forwarding. And in the course of a couple of hours the same commercial came on 3 times and every time the same thing made me cringe a little...

They had a commercial for Friday Night's 20/20 in which Barbara Walters was interviewing Sarah Palin and part of the commercial had her asking Palin's husband Todd "How did you feel when she told you you were going to have a Down Syndrome Baby"

Now I work with infants and toddlers who have developmental delays and disabilities, so "people-first" language has been drilled in my head. This meaning that they are a person first (i.e. he is a baby with Down Syndrome). Therefore saying that the disability does not define the child.

I'm not writing this as a rampage against Barbara Walters... I know she means nothing by it... like I said people first language has been drilled into my mind so much that when I hear things I perk up. So I went to look a little at people's comments regarding this and found how many comments thought that this complaint that people had was petty. And I can definitely see where they are coming from... it seems petty to be complaining about the order of wording when they are being so supportive of this family of a child with disabilities. I found the following message from a parent of a child with Down Syndrome and I thought it explained things pretty well so I wanted to share it:

With all the Sarah Palin interviews, I love that there is discussion of having children with Down syndrome. Unfortunately what makes my skin crawl and blood pressure rise is these interviews including language that is down-right inappropriate. I admit, before Mary, I probably would have said the same thing -- BUT once you know better, you do better. So with my below statements I am hoping those who read this will now know better.

Referring to Palin, they say, "She found out she was going to have a baby that IS Down syndrome." (I am talking about you Oprah and Barbara Walters)....Really? My daughter IS Down syndrome? Last time I checked she IS a fun, chatty, perfectionist-little lady who happens to HAVE an extra chromosome. For those of you who don't understand what the big deal is, let me tell you, as a parent, the difference is profound. Mary isn't DS, she has DS. She isn't a Down's baby, she has an extra chromosome.

Part of the problem is the flaw of the English language. People aren't trying to be offensive, they are just using the same sentence structure they always hair, brown tree, cute boy....the adjective is in front of the noun. But people, please don't use my daughter's "disability" as her main definitive adjective. She is so much more than a Down's baby. She is my baby, and now my little girl. Once you get to know her, you honestly don't even see the DS anymore. So knock it off media. Get the language right. They are people WITH DS. Not DS people.

Anyway... like I said I really did not intend this as a bashing of the language used... I just feel as though people don't know how it sounds when they say certain things so I wanted to comment on it because this is a subject near and dear to my heart.

Kind of on the same note (but very different)... while I was doing some reading that evening I found in several articles the fact that 90% of women who receive a diagnosis of Down Syndrome choose to have an abortion. Seriously, I started crying when I read this fact. I guess I knew that doctors do these genetic screenings during pregnancy so that termination is an option. But it shocked me that the percentage is so high. I think of all the babies I work with who have Down Syndrome and the amazing potential they have... their smiles that can light up a room and brighten even the worst day... their hugs and kisses that they give... the intelligence and progress that they show every day and my heart broke to think that this is considered enough of a deterrent that a baby should not be born. Anyway... I'm not really going to go on about this because it makes me too sad.

Sorry... I really hope this didn't sound like I was preaching... Just something that was on my mind this weekend!


Nicki and Mathis said...

We learned that fact about abortion in one of my classes this year. We watched a video where a parent said that when she was diagnosed during her pregnancy they flooded her with abortion options, but after she choose to have the baby, they didn't give her information on parenting a baby with DS or refer her to support groups, etc.

I feel this same way about some of the adoption language. "Keeping" the baby vs. "Parenting". "Giving away" the baby vs. "Making an adoption plan" "Real parents"... and the list goes on!

This was a great post!!

spasher said...

Preach it sister!!!