Yesterday, I wrote a quick review of the language session at #2017ADA and my excitement as I anticipated the session.

I don’t want to sound Grinch-like, but I walked out of the session feeling less enthused than I had when I walked in. That’s not because the speakers weren’t good. They hit the mark and said all the right things.

And it’s not because I am not excited to see the ADA and AADE developing and getting ready to launch their Language Consensus Statement (it’s due out in August). I am; I am so excited!

It’s because I didn’t hear anything new, and the time has come for us to do something more with language matters. Because, #LanguageMatters.

It was six years ago that Diabetes Australia launched ‘A New Language for Diabetes’ position statement. In collaboration with the Australian Centre for Behavioural Research in Diabetes, Diabetes Australia wanted a concise, easily shareable document that could straightforwardly and succinctly explain how to communicate with and about people with diabetes. Unapologetically, it called out the words that harmed and offered replacements that were more inclusive, less judgemental, all in an attempt to use language that didn’t make us feel like we were constantly failing at life with diabetes.

Six years is a long time in diabetes. Disappointingly, there’s still a lot that’s not great about the way diabetes is discussed in the media, in healthcare settings and, unfortunately, by healthcare professionals. We haven’t reached a position of respect; we have not managed to leave all judgement at the door when speaking about diabetes; we have not even started to eliminate stigma.

When the Language Position Statement was initially launched in Australia, I saw it very much as as first and most welcome step. Was it perfect? No. It was a starting point, not the end of it all.

It was never considered as definitive document, but it certainly a great place to begin; a living resource that could evolve. As the ACBRD did more and more work in the stigma space, it became very clear that words do indeed matter, and Diabetes Australia took the evidence and continued to push the envelope and innovate in this previously unexplored space.

Perhaps that’s not actually a correct statement. Language and words had long been on the radar of people living with diabetes. Diabetes camps had stopped using words such as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ to describe glucose numbers; the debate on the word ‘diabetic’ had been going for years, and many rallied against the words used that blamed, judged and slurred people with diabetes – whether it be for developing diabetes in the first place, or how well we are managing it.

But the Language Position Statement was the first time that it was all there in one neat document, backed by evidence to support the thoughts of PWD. (Jane Speight and I gave a number of talks which started with me ranting and waving my hands around about how language and words affects those of us living with diabetes, and concluded with Jane stepping up to present the evidence. Those talks packed a punch and made it very difficult for people to ignore the issue or to keep referring to it as political correctness gone mad.)

But now, six years on, I want more. I don’t want it to just be a debate about whether or not we use the word ‘diabetic’ (although this is still an important issue). We get waylaid when that is our whole focus, and I feel that anywhere that is just now coming to the language party needs to be a step ahead of the development of a language position statement. That’s been done and has been in circulation for over half a decade. Use it, adapt it, rebrand it and make it your own, but I’m not sure there is a need to recreate the wheel and start from scratch?

Not when there is still a lot more to do.

What’s the next frontier in language and diabetes? Maybe it’s diabetes conferences.

Because, they are a mess, with many presentations still peppered with words such as ‘non-compliant, non-adherent, poor control’, or referring to participants in research as ‘subjects’, and often (and sadly) a not a great understanding of the difficulties of living with diabetes.

With a Language Positions Statement already in existence, a great (and simple!) start to remedy these shortcomings could be for conference organisers to send a copy of it to all speakers, explaining there is an expectation that slide decks and talks will be in line with the document and its recommendations. And while they’re at it, the same expectations should be in place for anyone showing in the exhibition hall at the conference, or writing about the event. Along with embargo regulations, press corps could also be sent the position statement.

We know that organisations have the capacity to be vigilant – perhaps had the ADA put effort into urging appropriate use of language at the conference instead of enforcing their archaic photo ban, they wouldn’t have been hit so hard on the socials.

It’s time for us all to expect more and to demand better. How are YOU going to do that?

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