Rethinking language can change attitudes

I agree that "society's constant search for new euphemisms is ultimately pointless" if people's attitudes towards those with disabilities do not change ("Let's get off the 'euphemism treadmill'"; June 10). However, language is more than just terminology.

The act of rethinking language is a step towards changing attitudes. Although words such as "idiot" and "feeble-minded" used to be medical terms, we simply cannot accept their use today.

"Euphemisms" are not intended to "whitewash" disabilities, but to foster a supportive culture. And rethinking language helps to open a platform for the discussion of disability matters, influencing a change in attitudes.

Language can be potentially discriminatory, making it necessary to rethink the terms we use to refer to others. Language also affects attitudes.

Compare the terms "wheelchair access" and "step-free access". The former suggests that ramps are exclusively for wheelchair users, while the latter recognises that there are days when we are not able to use the stairs.

The term "step-free access" recognises that there is a spectrum of mobility needs. It is, therefore, more inclusive, encouraging us to be more inclusive towards those with accessibility requirements.

Many new terms have been suggested by people with disabilities. It is not meaningless to reconsider terminologies, provided disabled Singaporeans are central to our discussion.

Perhaps, with more public awareness drives like the See The True Me campaign by the National Council of Social Service that work with, not for, people with disabilities, people could explore suitable terms together.

What we need is not to get off the euphemism treadmill, but to talk about why we got on it in the first place, and understand each step we take. Only then will the exercise be meaningful.

Yeo Min (Miss)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2016, with the headline 'Rethinking language can change attitudes'. Print Edition | Subscribe