3.3 Care: a contested word
You have seen that the words used to label people who are seen as needing care can stigmatise them. By picking them out as unlike ‘normal’ people, people who do not need care, they can feel belittled, de-humanised and deprived of respect. But it is not just the labels like ‘mentally handicapped’, ‘lunatic’ or ‘mentally ill’ that are at issue. ‘Care’ as a word is itself under attack:
The terminology used in this area is important because it colours non disabled people's attitudes to disabled people and their needs … ‘Care’ is being rejected by growing numbers of disabled people because it … relates their needs to a society which treats them with compassion rather than to a society which respects their civil rights.
(Kestenbaum, 1996, p. 6)
In other words, some disabled people are arguing that to be seen as a person in need of care is demeaning. It suggests dependence rather than interdependence, inequality rather than equality, charity not rights. They are saying that ideas about disabled people being citizens with basic rights, rather than pitiful objects of charity, need to be reflected in the language we use.
‘Care’ is a word that is not going to be abandoned overnight because some disabled people dislike it. It is enshrined in legislation, such as the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990, the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995, and in high profile government policy like the National Strategy for Carers. And it is hard to think of another word which does not have problems of its own. But it is important to remember, as you meet the term, that care is a word that carries a lot of meanings, and that for some people those meanings are negative.