‘That’s mental!’ ‘There are crazy discounts right now!’ ‘He’s just blind to the truth’ ‘You’re so lame’
If you really start to think about it, our language is absolutely rammed full of ableist terms and phrases. As a disability activist, I will hold my hands up and say I have got it wrong, publically and recently. On an almost daily basis I find myself about to say something, thinking about the root of what I was about to say, and choosing differently.
When I was little, it was common to use terms like spastic (and derivatives), mongol (and derivatives), retarded (and derivatives) to describe people, all coming from authentically used disability language. I have Music Therapy text books on my shelf which are still set texts and still use such terms. We would not use them now as mainstream language, we know they are offensive and in general society has actively chosen better. We choose to honour the wishes of the communities living with those disabilities, using person first language, or not, as guided. We choose to listen to the experiences of harm indicated to us by people living with such disabilities and adapt our behaviour accordingly.
So why is it so difficult to do the same with more mainstream disabilities? Mental health, visual impairment, hearing impairment? ‘I told you to put the washing on this morning, are you deaf?’ ‘Come on ref, are you blind?’ ‘That tune is mad man!’
The same context applies. We have clear voices telling us using such terms and phrases are problematic at best, harmful at worst. Yet as a collective there can be a sense of ownership, even entitlement, to use our language, metaphors or phrases from literature that comes above our acceptance of the impact these terms have.
Our use of one word or phrase may not cause clear harm in the moment. But consider the impact if we all challenged our own language habits, made new actively inclusive choices, listened when innocent responses were pointed out to be problemmatic, and learned from disability advocates instead of seeking to defend the status quo? I’m happy we no longer use ‘handicapped’, ‘invalid’ and ‘uneducable’. Let’s keep the movement forward.
Peace be with you