Language and Disabilities within Technical Communication

Chapter 3 was a great read. When I think about technical communication I always think about how writers should make documents as user friendly as possible, but I never took into account that disability studies is a very sensitive subject and the language we use must be able to relate to everyone, not just “normal” people. “These roles require that we recognize and embrace the deeply rhetorical nature of our work as shapers of documents, particularly when those documents affect public policy” (Bowden, 2004). I think this issue in tech comm. raises concern for people who read these documents and feel seperated. I believe this is problematic because documents will show that there is a silent “other” if the language of a text doesn’t seem like it is presented for a person without disabilities. On page 102 in Smyser-Fauble’s chapter, she provides a good point that “normal” users are perceived of as being idealized. And to a certain extent I believe this is true, as a society we have been internalized to what normal looks like even though nothing is ever really considered normal. To change this issue in technical communication, then we would have to directly look at the language of these documents and evaluate if the language is dividing people with disabilities. Smyser-Fauble’s uses the work of Gutsell & Hulgin (2013), which I thought I was significant if we take into account that language has a direct effect in technical documents. The writers state, “Technical communicators need to identify how unconscious forms of oppression within language choices can continue to “distance and avoid” disability (87). For example, Gutsell and Hulgin identify the need for technical communicators to use ‘people-first’ language that refers to people in terms of their characteristics rather than in terms of disability labels (e.g. Person who uses a wheelchair vs. wheelchair bound)” (102). I found this very interesting because technical communicators have this impression that they are already creating documents that are user friendly for all users, but disability studies within tech comm. really demonstrates how we can sometime get away from the ‘people-first’ language.


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