An intrigueing tale of language as indicator


One of the challenges of a liberation theory such as the social model of disability is to find and use language that affords, those being liberated, respect. So it is that within the disability movement we talk about disabled people and within the advocacy movement we talk of partners. Our aim is to free, to involve, to enable participation, to ensure the involvement of new people in a society that changes to ensure inclusion. I guess its a description of political correctness.

Service User belongs within and is about the care industry. A caring society provides services. Those who use the service become service users. The label we force them to wear defines what they are but does not reflect their whole life experience.

I need to cut the waffle here and arrive at the place i want to go. A very close friend recently provided a voluntary session within an advocacy group. At the end of the session she met an advocacy worker who told her; “These people are our service users”.

Firstly this little fact was known and stands as being indubitable but it needs breaking down.

‘These people’. What does that say? My friend felt that it reflected difference. These people, who are different. These people who are not like us. “….are OUR services users”. These people who are different belong to us. We own them. They are defined merely by our provision.

The service is ours. It does not belong to them. The service is worker led.

The service is a part of the organisation and it is the organisation that is really important.

These are the thoughts that my friend raced through her head. The description as articulated by the worker seemed to reflect the values of the values of the worker and the values of the organisation. it did not seem to say anything valuable about the people. If anything, it seemed to be saying something that demeaned the people. It seemed to speak of their continuing neediness.

And yet i find myself wondering if these outcomes from the sentence are what the worker meant. My friend described the workers dress. She was very precise. She was very neat. She looked like someone who had a place for everything, someone who knew where things went, someone who knew what belonged where. She was a kindly woman. She mean’t no offence She was oh so charitable. But it’s not charity that we need if we are to be free. To achieve service user involvement we need more than this. Our need is for ownership, control, a stake. It seems to me that service user involvement does not provide this. these things remain outside of us. Give more. Don’t wait for us to take.

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