Many seem to believe that if we only use another word for something derogatory, it will be much less so. We have had this development with words like "cleaning staff" who are now called "sanitary technicians", still doing the same very important work. If they would get some other benefits from the title change, it would be one thing, but the name change itself will do nothing more than hiding the derogative for some time.
Lately, there has been a lot of discussions about the words "impairment" and "disability". The claim has been that they indicate that there is something "wrong" with the person. Therefore, we should use the term "functional variation" instead. The intention is that a functional variation does not imply a lesser person. In some sense this is of course true, but let's face it, the meaning of the words are in a sense correctly describing the situation.
Impairment means that are having something that does not work properly. A disability means that you are not able to do some things. In this meaning these words can have an underlying derogative implication. Now, using the phrase functional variation instead of impairment implies that all kinds of personal properties are OK, regardless of how they affect the person in his or her life.
This is where I object to the usage of the term "functional variation". Used in this way it has no other meaning than the newspeak in Orwell's book 1984. It is essentially giving the emperor invisible clothes, hoping we will not see him either.
So, should we stop using it altogether? No, I think that in some cases it does have a usage that is positive. I think we should use it as a complement to the word impairment. All impairments are not the same. I have two major impairments myself, both invisible, namely restless legs and ADHD. Both these affect my life quite a lot. However, ADHD, when examined closely can in many cases be regarded as a functional variation, in the sense that it gives my brain a different way of seeing the world. When I have learned how to use it, I clearly see some positive aspects that they contribute to my life, if I only get the proper support. It is a different, but not necessarily bad condition for me.
Restless legs, on the other foot, only hampers me. If I don't get my medication in time, it will keep me awake throughout the night. Nobody will be able to convince me that this is not an impairment, or that it is a functional variation. It definitely is a disabling factor in my life.
So we need to use the proper words in the right way, and we should not just change the terminology and think that this will solve any problems.
The derogative attitude will not change with the choice of words. It will only change if we focus on the underlying problem: misinformation and negative preconceptions about impairments and disabilities.