This post is my contribution to Blogging against disabilism day.
I’ve noticed, not so much at In a Strange Land, but sometimes in comments, and more frequently in comments at The Hand Mirror, and very, very frequently elsewhere in the NZ blogosphere, ‘ableist’ language. That is, language that uses disabilities to disparage something. Very, very simple stuff, like saying that something is lame, or that someone had a bit of a spas / spaz.
Here’s why. (This is very much Disabilism 101 – old, old news to people who work with these issues all the time, but evidently, not much known elsewhere.)
You can say that x is bad just by saying, “X is bad.” But another way to say it is to compare x to something (which is also perceived is bad). So, “X is lame” carries that same connotation i.e that “X is bad.” The two statements are equivalent. And from there, it’s just a short step to: “Lame is bad. You are lame. You are bad bad bad.”
Sure, you can pick apart the language logic, and point out that of course, being lame is not something that people normally welcome, that being less than able bodied in any way is not desirable. And really, that’s all that you are saying.
Whatever. The point is, you are using language that describes the way that living breathing thinking feeling human beings are, language that describes integral parts of their every day reality, and using that language to say that some other totally unrelated thing is bad. What people with disabilities hear, and what I hear too, is language that mocks and denigrates them. It’s all so very negative, so very disempowering for people with disabilities, and yet it is so easy to avoid.
So lose it. Make the effort and find another word. Here’s some that you can use:
And instead of knocking people who have cerebal palsy, which is a heart breaking condition, by saying that you, or someone else, threw a spaz, what about talking about having a wee tanty. It carries exactly the same connotations.
English is a very rich language. Next time, instead of plumbing only the depths of disabilism, that is, language and behaviours that deny the humanity of people with disabilities, make a little effort, try being just a bit sensitive, and mine the rich resources of English instead.