III Part Series: Language of Diabetes
Part I: Why Not Diabetic? Person Not the Disease
Honestly, I was a bit ignorant, prior to reading the paper “Use of Language in Diabetes Care and Education” that the term “diabetic” was simply incorrect to use. In my thinking, it was simply semantics. Boy was I mistaken! I became acutely aware of just how wrong it was when I posted a picture of Meg (after getting permission) on my social media page proudly wearing her “I am diabetic” t-shirt. Meg is a person with diabetes with whom I work closely as her diabetes educator. Meg has really struggled to embrace the diagnosis of diabetes so wearing this particularly t-shirt was her way of displaying she accepted the diagnosis. I was sharply scolded by fellow diabetes educators. Lesson learned that I will not post pictures displaying “diabetic” nor use the term, “diabetic,” while respecting Meg’s right to use terminology that she is most comfortable.
So why not diabetic? In basic terms, diabetic labels a person by the disease rather than as a person who happens to have diabetes. The disease, diabetes, is placed first rather than the person. Diabetic also creates a sense of disability as if something is wrong with the “diabetic” person. We know that this certainly not true. Which sounds more negative, diabetic or person with diabetes? Okay, it is pretty obvious that person with diabetes is more positive. Having provided care, education and support for persons with diabetes for a number of years now, I can greatly appreciate the energy and commitment it takes to live with this condition, and the numerous considerations that are made daily in self-managing this condition. So creating opportunities for a positive perspective is vital. Back to Meg, she certainly is defined by more than the disease of diabetes rather her identity as a wife, mother, daughter, and sister far greater than any disease.
Diabetic is often used beyond just describing person with diabetes to also describing education or complications. As a diabetes educator, I cringe when I read the words, “diabetic education.” I want to scream from the top of my lungs every time I read these words. Rather than scream, I edit the words in the computer to diabetes education. There are numerous possible complications from diabetes so simply describing the complication for what it is rather than labelling it as a “diabetic” complication.
There is much education and advocacy yet to be done to change the language of diabetes. My hope is that this blog will prompt you to change the language you speak regarding diabetes and spread the message. Back to Meg, last week, she proudly showed me a picture of her new diabetes sweatshirt displaying message about diabetes awareness month.
Special thanks to Jane Dickinson, Susan Guzman, Melinda Marynik, Catherine O’Brian, Jane Kadohiro, Richard Jackson, Nancy D’Hondt, Brenda Montgomery, Kelly Close and Martha Funnell who wrote Use of Language in Diabetes Care and Education