Sarah Palin has just joined John McCain as his running mate, and she took the stage in Dayton accompanied by her husband Todd and four of her five children — including youngest son Trig, who was born in April. (Oldest son Track is in the Army, and will deploy to Iraq next month.)
A few minutes before Palin appeared, I heard David Gergen on CNN referring to Trig Palin as “a Down syndrome child.” Ouch.
We can do better than that.
It’s worth remembering that people with Down syndrome are just that — people — and should be referred to as such. Let’s make an extra effort, when discussing Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, to say that Trig “has Down syndrome,” or is a “child with Down syndrome.” Using language that puts the person first sends a strong message that people should not be defined by their disabilities. Like all Americans, people with disabilities deserve our respect and consideration.
And while we’re on the subject, let me offer some guidance on disrespectful language to avoid in discussing the lives of people who have Down syndrome.
Please, people, let’s not say that they “suffer” from Down syndrome, or that they are “afflicted” by Down syndrome. Down syndrome is a chromosomal condition that doesn’t interfere with a person’s ability to lead a happy, satisfying and productive life, and to contribute to their family and community.
Please, don’t refer to Trig as a “Down’s child,” a “Down syndrome child,” or “a Downs.” This is outdated language that demeans in its assumption that a person’s disability is the most important thing about them. And I shouldn’t have to tell you that old-fashioned terms like “mongoloid” and “mongol” are considered insulting by the disability community.
Looking for more information? Here’s a release from the National Down Syndrome Congress and the National Down Syndrome Society.