Following on from my most successful “How to Lose Friends & Alienate People” post, I’ve decided to do another post, further discussing my ideas around disability & language.
(Disclaimer: All opinions are my own. This post will include language that’s considered ableist slurs, If you find that language upsetting, it’s probably better if you just skip this one.)
- Wheelchair bound
This one reared its head again after the recent death of Stephen Hawking, it’s how he was described in most of the newspaper articles I’ve seen. And frankly, this idea that wheelchairs are binding or limiting needs to stop. Seriously, just think about what you’re saying when you say this. I’m not bound. No one is tying me into this chair and forcing me to use it against my will. When I’m using my chair, I. AM. FREE. My chair is the ONLY reason I can go to all these venues and events that I write accessibility reviews about and do all the things I do.
- Disabled/differently abled/whatever identity term you use
Now, let me clarify here, I don’t have any problem with the WORDS here, It’s more the reactions to the words. Identify however you want, whether that’s person first language (person with a disability) or identity first (disabled person), and THAT word, disabled, is where the issue tends to happen. When I identify myself as disabled, and I’ve heard of this happening to other people too, sometimes people say, “you’re not disabled you’re differently abled” NO, you do not get to define who I am TO me. Disabled isn’t a bad word, identity first language is valid! #SayTheWord
You can guess, from the fact I’ve put an asterisk in here, exactly how I feel about this word. It’s probably the worst ableist slur in my opinion, and the one that makes me flinch every single time I hear it. And for the “but it’s a medical term” people, yes, a ridiculously outdated one that isn’t actually used anymore (as far as I’m aware) so there goes that argument, ableist people!
Here goes with what could a controversial opinion. When it comes to using this word about my disability or myself. I am COMPLETELY ok with it and WILL use it (that’s just relating to ME, I still cringe when I hear it being said to others because I know THEY might not be ok with it) The reason I’m ok with it is, for those of you who aren’t aware, the full name of my condition is cerebral palsy spastic diplegia, and well the clue’s in the name essentially. So, I see this word as less of an insult and more an observation. And if someone DOES try to use it as an insult it’s sort of like “well you didn’t have to look far for that that one did you, it’s LITERALLY part of the name for my condition”.
- Suffers from…
I’m sorry, do I look like I’m suffering over here getting a joint honours degree, living independently in the capital, going to more concerts and events than I could ever have thought possible and generally living my best life? I HAVE cerebral palsy, I SUFFER FROM nothing. This kind of language, I feel, stems from the idea that disability is a bad thing or something I should be sad about, and that is soooooo not the case it’s ridiculous. I’ll live my life just like you like yours, regardless of the fact I live it on wheels
Using this word or hearing it used to describe my disability always feels a little odd. It just makes too much of a point of the fact there are things I can’t do as opposed to focusing on what I can do, and that’s completely the opposite of the way I’ve always approached being disabled.
- Neurological condition –
This is another one that always feels odd. Even though I know cerebral palsy IS a neurological condition, I also know that people are more likely to understand that neurological means that the brain is affected, and THAT sometimes leads people to assume my intelligence is affected. That, considering my intelligence is something I’m very proud of, is an assumption that can be quite upsetting or irritating, which means I very rarely refer to cerebral palsy as the neurological condition that it is!
This is another odd one. It’s a word I often encounter at concerts or events when you buy a “disabled & carer” ticket. But the thing is, I don’t actually need much care at events like that really, particularly when I’m in my electric chair. So when friends hear me, who’s usually incredibly independent, mention a “carer” it kind of scares them, like “oh what do I have to do?” when all I’m really saying is “do you want to come to this thing with me as a friend”. And for those wondering, Personal Assistant is worse because, to me, it gives the idea that being disabled gives you some kind of privilege, and believe me, disability isn’t some kind of fancy privilege!
- How are you going to…? –
This one’s sort of depends on the context of when it’s being said. If we’re going somewhere together and you want to know how to help me with certain things on the journey like getting on and off whatever form of transport, that’s fine. But if I mention going somewhere by myself and you ask this, it kind of feels like you’re questioning my capability, and that’s not cool, in these situations, how I do things is something for me to figure out.
Ok, alright, THIS. THIS. IS. JUST. NOT A WORD. The only thing I physically cannot do is walk unaided, everything else I figure out my own way of doing. So, for all those who like to say “oh you can’t do x” stop trying to tell me what I’m capable of & what I’m not
I hope this post helps expand my the discussion around disability & language. Feel free to share your thoughts below!