Letter: Political correctness and disability terminology

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The Independent Online
Sir: In response to your article on Mencap (20 July), concerning its unwillingness to change its image and demeaning use of the term 'mental handicap', I would like to point out that the issue is not merely a question of certain terms or definitions being insulting or misleading, but the right of people who are subjected to these terms and definitions to throw them off and take control of how they are seen as a group.

People First, by challenging the term 'mental handicap', has laid bare the inherent disablist attitudes within this charity. Mencap's patronising and paternalistic approach to issues around learning difficulty maintains the status quo: the inequality of power that separates those with direct experience of learning difficulty from those without such experience.

It should come as no surprise that Lord Rix, Mencap's chairman, does not find the term 'mental handicap' insulting. As a titled person, when would he be subjected to the daily degradation caused by this term?

To state that the terminology chosen by people with learning difficulties is a misnomer is ridiculous. It is a term chosen by them, and that is what is important. We agree with Mencap that society needs to change its attitude, but by not removing language which is offensive and insulting, Mencap is using the usual negative charity- giving ethos that people will give money only to those that paint the saddest picture.

Labels such as 'mental handicap' rob people with learning difficulties not only of their dignity, but also of their right to be regarded as 'people' (ie, with equal status and rights to able-bodied people).

If there is to be a debate about 'disability terminology', now or in the future, then it should be those who are abused by it or have to deal with the direct consequences of its employment who set the agenda, have the debate and draw conclusions.

Yours faithfully,

DECLAN TREANOR

Adviser

People First

London, WC1

21 July

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