Our Words Matter: A Challenge to Us All

by Lisbeth Vest Armstrong, Chief Program Officer

Have you ever caught yourself using the words “client,” “resident,” or “consumer” to refer to a person we serve? I know I have. But, I’ve also come to realize that using such language can inadvertently set us apart from those for whom we so passionately advocate.

I’ve long understood that words are powerful. The words we use in everyday life express much more than just the concept we plan to deliver. Words matter…words can have meaning to others that we may or may not intend to convey.

Lisbeth w Peter at Family Day Picnic

I was once told by a nationally known self-advocate that in spite of Hammer’s philosophy, she noticed that we sometimes use less than dignified terms when referring to the men and women we serve. Self-advocates around the country are asking to be called “individuals” – NOT “clients,” “residents,” or “consumers.” I think we owe it to them to respect and understand their wishes.

We want to be careful to use “people first” language when making reference to someone. We must remember that a person is more than their disability.Lisbeth Blog Chart

My challenge to you is to hold each other accountable for the words we use. When you hear a staff member use the words “client,” “resident,” or “consumer,” kindly remind them instead to use the phrase “individual we serve.” I know that we are all working hard, and it may seem easier to go to that old familiar language. However, we, more than most, understand the dignity and respect owed to each individual we serve.


  1. Cindy Leines

    Lisbeth, you are sooooo right! Thanks for continuing to enlighten and remind each of us about the power of our words and our attitudes.

  2. Linda Armstrong

    This is so typically “you,” Lis, knowing that you are a kind, considerate, caring person. Thank you for sharing this.


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