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Use of language in nursing discourse: framing disability

13 October 2022
Volume 31 · Issue 18

The use of language to frame disability discourse in health care by those with disabilities, those who are ‘fellow travellers’ and health professionals has been debated for many years. There are, however, differing views between those who are disabled and those who are not as to who owns the language, the forms of language, the contents of discourse, how discourse is played out and how that language is to be used.

Take, for example, the word ‘invalid’, as I saw on a sign reading ‘invalid toilet’. From 1971 to 1995 there was a welfare benefit in the UK called the ‘invalidity benefit’ and until fairly recently people could be ‘invalided’ out of the military. Although the noun came into use to mean ‘ill person’, with a sense of ‘not healthy’ or ‘not strong’, its roots have been forgotten and English speakers are far more familiar with the adjective, meaning ‘not valid’ or ‘not acceptable’. This has significant implications for disability discourse, since an out-dated term carries discriminatory meanings.

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