I read this piece by Mike Hoskins (mate, fellow coffee addict, all ‘round good guy) over at Diabetes Mine yesterday where he looked at the use of the word ‘diabetic’. The piece is actually from December last year, but I missed it in the excitement that was New York in December.

I don’t use it. I don’t refer to myself as ‘diabetic’ or ‘a diabetic’. I am a person with diabetes. As far as economy of language goes, it’s a pain, especially when you only have 140 characters to play with. But PWD seems to be pretty widely recognised in my circles.

Perhaps it’s been drummed into me at work, perhaps it’s political correctness gone mad. Regardless, you will not read or hear me use the word diabetic as a label for myself or others with diabetes.

Mike’s article was quite timely as last week I had a little incident that got me more than a little heated.

I was on the phone with VicRoads. This was not an enjoyable experience by any means. I was cut off four times; the four people who answered my call(s) gave me incorrect information and then, when I asked to speak with a medical review case worker, I had someone return my call who was incredibly rude, aggressive and disrespectful. She constantly interrupted me and refused to answer my questions. And gave me the wrong information.

(For context – I was trying to get some clarification as to why I was required to submit an eye exam report along with my medical review.)

‘I was wondering why I am required to submit an eye exam report,’ I explained as the reason for my call.

‘Insulin-dependent diabetics have to must submit a biennial eye exam,’  was the response.

I asked where this is stated in the Guidelines. She would not (could not?) answer this question. She just kept saying (very aggressively) ‘It is a requirement for all insulin-dependent diabetics.’

Now, I am willing to concede that I was pissed off and that if I didn’t have my back up I probably would have let things slide and been happy to continue the discussion about our differing interpretations of the Guidelines.

But I was pissed off. I was annoyed that the medical officer was being rude and patronising and not being helpful. And I was annoyed that she was giving out false information – information that if people didn’t know better could cost a lot of time and (potentially) money for no reason.

So I stopped her.

‘Excuse me,’ I said (and I promise I was being polite and not patronising). ‘Please don’t use the term diabetic. I don’t like it. I would prefer if you used person with diabetes.’

Yes, okay. I know how prissy this sounds. I know how pedantic and, quite frankly, nit-picky I was being.  I really do.

But she was being rude and she was spitting out the word as though it was something dirty – that there was something wrong with me.

Without missing a beat, she replied with ‘But you are. You are a diabetic.’ She almost yelled it at me.

The conversation didn’t get any better.

I have diabetes. I own it. I am out, loud and proud about it. But it’s my diabetes and my rules. And my rules include how people speak about me and about my diabetes. They do it with respect, they do it politely and they show courtesy. None of these things were demonstrated. The word ‘diabetic’ was being used here spitefully, and as a label that I felt diminished me.

I don’t care if people with diabetes refer to themselves as (a) diabetic. And I don’t even really mind when other people with diabetes refer to me as (a) diabetic. But it is never done with any judgement. It never pigeon holes someone. And it is never done disrespectfully.

Words matter. I say it all the time and I realise it more and more each day.  While it’s a highly personal choice as to the words we each use to describe our ‘diabetes-selves’, using language that is accepted by everyone – and doesn’t have the potential to insult – is clearly a better way.

And here it is. Again. The Diabetes Australia Language Position Statement. And yes, I sent a copy of this to VicRoads as soon as I got off the phone.

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