“Make sure you take your travel letter that says you’re a diabetic,” Mum reminded me yesterday afternoon.
Mum has used the word “diabetic” a few times lately in reference to my insulin pump day and an upcoming trip, and it’s kind of been bugging me. Until yesterday, when I finally felt the urge to correct her.
“I’m not a diabetic,” I replied. “I’m a person with diabetes.”
“What’s the difference?” Mum asked.
“Diabetic is a label.” I paused, trying to summon more words.
“Come on, explain yourself.”
I was in the process of swallowing a mouthful of coffee. Feeling the pressure to answer, I choked. I jumped out of my chair and raced over to the lawn, where I could safely clear my throat and the excess coffee in my mouth.
“I don’t use the word ‘diabetic’ on my blog. I say person with diabetes. Diabetic is a label, whereas diabetes is a word that describes me. I wouldn’t call you ‘cancer’ or ‘brain tumour,’ would I?”
“That’s true,” Mum said, with an expression of surprise that told me she’d learned something new.
I’ve seen others in the DOC talk about this so well. I’ve wanted to talk about it, but haven’t quite been able to find the right words up until now.
Language matters. To quote Diabetes Australia’s Language Position Statement:
“The way language is used – both verbal and written – reflects and shapes our thoughts, beliefs and behaviours. Language has the power to persuade, change or reinforce beliefs, discourse and stereotypes – for better or for worse. Words do more than reflect people’s reality: they create reality.”
“Language needs to engage people with diabetes and support their daily self-care efforts. Importantly, language that de-motivates or induces fear, guilt or distress needs to be avoided and countered.”
“Optimal communication increases the motivation, health and well-being of people with diabetes; furthermore, that careless or negative language can be de-motivating, is often inaccurate, and can be harmful.”
What may seem silly to you, means a great deal to the person who is listening or reading.