Words Matter: Inclusive Language and SOME’s Mission

A note from SOME Chief Diversity Officer Bettina Straight:

You’ve probably heard people say that words matter, and at SOME, we pay a great deal of attention to the language we use. As an organization that strives to be inclusive of all clients, residents, and employees, we know that there are words that welcome and words that don’t, so I thought I would share a bit about my belief in the importance of inclusive language.

Starting with Awareness

The language we use naturally changes over time. For example, some trendy phrases lose their appeal (although I still believe that some things are “totally rad”). In the same way, some terms are no longer respectful, so instead, we use new words that are more aligned with the times.

While it can be hard to keep up, it is important to adjust so that we are not alienating the people with whom we interact. It is why we no longer use words like “retarded” to describe people with certain disabilities or say “That’s so gay” to describe something we feel is stupid—we are aware of how those words impact others, so we (hopefully) don’t use them.

At SOME, how we describe the clients we work with is critical because we always want to empower people. We want them to know that they are valued, seen, and respected.

We speak about circumstances that have led to someone needing to receive support, rather than using accusatory language that implies they “got themselves into this situation.”

I bet you can feel the difference between those two sentiments just by reading them to yourself—I know I can. How we speak to or about people can either be uplifting or destructive. It’s important to pay attention to the words we use so that we are contributing to a client’s growth, not their shame.

Speaking with Intention

Some may say this is just being “politically correct,” but to me, it’s about respect and intention. My intention when working with my colleagues or our clients is to help them feel understood, appreciated, and valued.

Sometimes that means asking someone how they prefer to be described (Black or African American for example) and sometimes it means asking for clarity around the pronouns they use rather than making an assumption.

Either way, I believe questions like these allow a person to take ownership of the language being used about them, which is both powerful and affirming.

Consider for Yourself

Do you have thoughts on how language can be either affirming or damaging? What has that meant for you?