Frontline Initiative: DSPs Using the NADSP Code of Ethics

Goodbye, Personal Computer (PC) World


Ben Drew is the founder of Open Futures Learning in Huntington, New York. Ben can be reached at

A headshot of a man in pink collared shirt against a white background

Ben Drew, author.

If you receive services, you are surrounded by a wall of acronyms and jargon that clearly shows the power imbalance between you and them.

We can now laugh about the language used at PC World, but at least they weren’t hypocrites. They didn’t talk about inclusion and accessibility. We do. The language that direct support professionals use is important. You may not recognize how your words can exert power over others.

I bought my first computer at a place called PC World. The store went out of business about a decade ago and now I can buy computers online. Now I won’t have to listen to why a gigabit is better than a gigabyte. I won’t have to stare blankly at a pair of khaki pants while being lectured on the differences between a RAM and a ROM.

If you ever tried to buy a computer in a store, you will have, just for a moment, felt what it was like to be controlled by the words and language of another person. But now you have a choice. You can buy a computer from your own home. You can find your own resources to learn about your purchase.

Many people who have a developmental disability don’t have this choice. The little bubble called “service land,” where they live, sounds a lot like this:

Video from the Web version of this publication:

Developmental Disability Direct Support Professional / just say no to acronyms and jargon!:

Imagine if PC World still existed and that every day you had to go to PC World and spend the whole day there.

After a while, you might disengage, and find a comfortable office chair far away from the professionals using language that is not the language you use. You could tune out and spin quietly. Before long, your loving mom would hear about this and say, “That’s not my son; he doesn’t spend his time spinning on a chair at home.” She would get you out of there and if you were really lucky, she would help you to get “self-direction.” You would hire your own workers. These people would have no “experience” and wouldn’t be institutionalized like those store workers. These people would speak to you in your language, whatever that was.

A person wearing glasses and gray headphones stands at a kitchen counter making toast. A text bubble coming from the left side of the image reads “Great example of positive risk person-centered practice!” A text bubble coming from the person reads “Or just... someone making breakfast!”

Don’t get caught up in complex jargon – make language accessible!

And that is what we all need to do. Quite simply, we need to speak the same language as the person we are communicating with. This may or may not mean using words. Check-in with people. Don’t test people but ask questions about what you have communicated and do things to make sure they understand.

I talked to someone about this recently and they said, “The reason I use acronyms is because I don’t have time to say the whole word.” I asked, “What do you do with all the time you save?” They didn’t reply.

If you hear people speaking in a way that is not inclusive, ask them to explain what their words or acronyms mean. You will soon find that a lot of professionals themselves do not know what their acronyms mean.

Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to create a culture where language is inclusive and accessible to everyone, especially the people you support. Call others out when they use complicated language that is not understandable to people you support. It’s not personal to ask someone to think about the words they use. It’s professional.

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