3.2.1 Ever-changing labels
A few years from now, there will undoubtedly be new labels for people with learning disabilities and mental health problems, and other groups who are seen to need care. This is because new labels which are intended to de-stigmatise get contaminated by some of the negative attitudes attached to the condition they are describing. Thus ‘sub-normal’, introduced to replace ‘mental defective’ in the Mental Health Act 1959, is now seen as a term of abuse. At the time, however, it was seen as a way of emphasising a change in official policy away from segregated hospital care to care in the community. Even as we write, we are aware of controversy about the labels used to describe people with learning disabilities. People First, an organisation representing people with learning disabilities, prefers ‘people with learning difficulties’. Rescare, an organisation representing parents who want to retain hospital care, prefers to use the term ‘mentally handicapped’, because they believe the terms ‘learning disability’ or ‘learning difficulties’ understate the very real needs for care and protection their sons and daughters have.
There will probably never be an end to this contest about the right terms to use. What is important is to be aware of the ideas they carry with them.