One of the rhymes I remember from childhood is ‘sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.’ This was often said when someone had said or called you a name you did not like.
Over the years I have learnt that this rhyme is not true. The language we use can be more powerful and hurtful than any weapon. I am sure we all know words or have heard language which causes pain to others.
Things are not helped when we remain silent when we hear those words spoken. Sadly, it seems that sometimes we are too timid to talk about this type of bullying when we see it happening.
However, the Independent Living Students in Coleg Gwent have made it their mission to shame those people who use offensive language about learning disability.
Recently, I was invited along to the premiere of a film they have made with Mencap where they challenged people’s behaviour towards bullying and hate crime.
Over the course of 50 minutes, alongside Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, journalist Mik Scarlett and comedian Ted Shiress, the students spoke about the words that had been aimed at them and their experiences of bullying.
I could not help but be moved by the bravery of the students as they recounted their own personal stories of bullying. I want as many people to see this documentary as possible, that is why I have invited the students to show the film at the Houses of Parliament.
Sitting through the production hearing how the students had often been made fun of, I was struck by how disabilities are used as part of comedy routines. How often have we heard those with additional needs being mocked or part of a punch line?
Comedies from the 60s and 70s like Love Thy Neighbour or ‘Til Death Do Us Part which used race and colour as part of the plot are now no longer acceptable. Then why do we still tolerate comedians and others cracking jokes about those with disabilities and see it as perfectly normal.
The students in Coleg Gwent believe we should claim back some of the offensive words in the hope of disarming people.
However, I think there is something we can all do. Sometimes we use words without realising the pain they can cause others. If we are more aware and thought about the words we use then perhaps we can create a more tolerant society.