By Alexander Cooper
Jacksonville State University held the second installment in its series of lectures on diversity on Monday, Oct. 24 on the 11th floor of the Houston-Cole library. The speaker of the event was Julie Nix, the director of the Counseling Center and Disability Support Services for the university.
The lecture dealt with awareness when it comes to disabilities and focused on “people-first” language, which she described as being a way of referring to men and women with disabilities while putting each individual first and not defining them by their particular disability.
“When we talk about disability,” Nix said, “so many times the person’s diagnosis is used to define their value and their potential.”
Nix started her lecture with a quote from Mark Twain: “The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.”
“Our words are powerful,” she said.
Nix put a strong focus on how words have power and meaning and emphasized the need to use the right language when referring to those with disabilities.
“Many of the words that we have used through time to describe people with disabilities have a negative connotation,” Nix said. “Using these labels—and most people do it unintentionally—can contribute to negative stereotypes and devalue the person you are describing”
She explained that 1 in 5 people in the United States have some sort of disability and that those with disabilities make up the largest and one of the most diverse minority groups in the country.
“It’s not a matter of if you get a disability, but when,” said Nix. “It’s a natural part of the human experience.”
In the lecture, she addressed several “inaccurate descriptors” that are very often used to address those with disabilities. These words such that included terms like “handicapped” and Nix took the time to explain why these were outdated or could be offensive. She also offered alternatives to these words by explaining that it is preferable to use words like “accessible.”
Jacksonville State’s Vice President of Student Affairs, Dr. Timothy King, also took a few moments to speak to those who were attending.
“This [topic] is near and dear to me,” he explained, “because I am a person with a disability.”
King is what he calls hard of hearing and has worn a hearing aid since he was a child. He told about his experience in education and some of the ways those around him assumed that he couldn’t do as much as others because of his disability.
“When we have preconceived notions and use language in a way that limits what we think that person can do, it makes it that much more difficult for that person to be successful,” King said.
Mr. Jai Ingraham, the Director of Diversity Inclusion and Title IX Coordinator at JSU, spoke on the importance of this lecture and others like it.
“Our diversity lecture series here at JSU is about engagement,” Ingraham said. “It has to do with bringing like-minded individuals together and making sure that Jacksonville State University is a place where diversity and inclusion matters for everyone. You want to bring different groups together and make sure people are aware of the part they can play in making an informed decision.”
“[I want students to] be aware of putting the person before the disability and being cognizant of the different labels and stereotypes that we have and where they come from,” Nix concluded.
King also explained that it’s important for education about the impact that language to take place, saying, “[Jacksonville State] is an institution of higher learning and we are supposed to be on the cutting edge and explain this kind of knowledge to our students so that they will be prepared when they go out into the world to provide that to whoever they are working with.”