If a member of staff in your Office used racist language in conversation, someone would pull them up on it. If a member of staff in your Office used sexist language in conversation, someone would pull them up on it. If a member of staff in your Office used homophobic language in conversation, someone would pull them up on it.
If a member of staff in your Office used language offensive to people with special needs, would someone pull them on it?
From my experience, no. It’s not that people believe using offensive terms, such as s****** and r*****, are right or correct, it’s just that they don’t realise how offensive these terms are. Using this words to describe someone maybe being a little slow, or too drunk, is used more flippantly (in my opinion) than words that are racist or sexist, which people are more likely to think twice about using. You hear it mentioned in songs, television and in general conversation without the backlash that other forms of offensive language would generate, because those who are being disrespected might not understand that they are.
This is wrong.
Just because some people in a minority group of society might not have the cognition to understand how they are being discriminated against does not make it okay. Awareness movements such as #MeToo, Pride and Black Lives Matter do fantastic work in making people understand how their choices may affect other people, but these groups simply don’t exist at the same level of recognition for those with special needs. This, again, does not make it okay to be inconsiderate. It is not the responsibility of those who are discriminated against to make it obvious to you, it is your responsibility to understand what you are doing and why you shouldn’t do it.
So this is a plea to anyone who has heard this language or witnessed this sort of discrimination and has just let it slide. Do not. Explain the level that it is offensive, explain that it offends you, and explain that others should be offended too. If we can start with the smallest words, our attitudes to those with special needs can start to change. They’re not a forgotten group who can be easily disrespected in conversation. They are an important part of society, and our choice in language and action must reflect this.