Diabetes Week kicked off in the UK yesterday with the launch of their very own Language Guidance statement. Well done to all involved. It’s great to see another language document joining the movement started by Diabetes Australia back in 2011, and added to in recent years by the ADA and AADE (who presented their Guidance Statement last year), diaTribe Foundation (who has written extensively on the issue) and the Team Novo Nordisk (who developed a great guide for media reporting on the team.) And now, it’s great to see the UK on board, too.

Click to read the new UK Diabetes Language Matters guide.

In Australia, it’s been wonderful to see just how widely our statement has been used. Conference organisers have embraced the Diabetes Australia statement, including it in speaker packs, encouraging presenters to align their talks with the document. (The table which offers suggestions for words and phrases that can be problematic is a very useful reference tool.)

I can still remember the launch of the Diabetes Australia statement. It was at the State Library of Victoria which played to my word and book nerdiness almost perfectly. There could not have been a better setting for a media launch about words, language and diabetes.

Little did we know back then just how significant or far-reaching this document would be. At first, we were met with a lot of resistance, and people thinking that it was political correctness gone slightly mad. But we persevered and made sure that we were clear why this work was necessary.

I remember sitting in talks given by HCPs and flinching constantly as judgemental and stigmatising language was considered appropriate. Now, in Australia at least, it is startling when someone uses words such as non-compliant, because the ongoing, constant and committed efforts by many have completely changed the way that the words are used when speaking about and to people with diabetes.

While the official statement was launched seven years ago, the impact language and words have on diabetes was not a new area of discussion. People with diabetes have been talking and writing about how significant the (positive and negative) impact of words can be. I remember seeing discussions about it on the Reality Check forum not long after I was diagnosed, and speaking about it at events we ran back when the consumer program started at Diabetes Victoria in the early 2000s. We knew that words had power. We just needed to bring everyone on the ride with us to get them to understand it too.

And that’s why the Diabetes Australia statement – and all those that have come since – are so important. They provide a framework to refer to; something to hold up as an example of how things could be better.

Even though there has been a lot written and spoken a great deal about language and diabetes over the last seven years, we’re not finished. This is not a static movement. No one can for a moment think that we have ‘done’ language; there will always be new and different things to consider. Some particular areas of interest to me in recent times include the language we use when talking about hypos. And how we reframe the way we talk about diabetes complications.

I wrote this piece after the ADA Annual Scientific Meeting last year when I realised that we need to keep moving forward because there is still much to be done.

But while we do that, I believe it is important that we never deviate from the intention of the language matters movement. It is not about dictating to people with diabetes the words we can and cannot use when talking about our own diabetes, or criticising the words we choose to use. It is about framing the way people speak to and about those of us living with diabetes, and encouraging the use of language that is inclusive, engaging, non-judgemental, destigmatising and respectful. It is about using words that make us feel empowered, positive, hopeful.

Fundamentally, it is about making things better for us.

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