Ableist language plagues much of our discourse. This language sneaks through many of the conversations we have and unknowingly harms the disabled and differently abled community. Our day-to-day discussions should not undermine an entire group of people. We need to call out ableist language in order to break down the notion that disability is inferior.
Ableist language diminishes disabled and differently abled people. It’s inherently prejudiced against this community I’m a part of. One such infamous ableist word is the R-word, or r*tard(ed). This word derides people with intellectual disabilities and has become a slur.
Yet many other uses of ableist language continue to seep into our usage, even among those who know about the R-word and don’t want to harm those in the community with intellectual disabilities. Many people use albeist language as an insult or expression of frustration without awareness of its impact. Therefore, it’s imperative to learn about what exactly constitutes ableism and how this diction harms the disabled community.
“How did you not hear that? Are you deaf?” is ableist. This usage supports the fallacy that those who have such disabilities are inferior to abled-bodied people. As someone who is deaf, it feels like I’ve been devalued. This usage assigns a negative connotation to the disability, making the word a slur. It’s similar to the harmful effect on the gay community when someone says something is “gay” as a derisive term.
I understand people use many of these words with a definition that doesn’t apply towards actual disability. The intent isn’t always used to demean disabled people. However, using words that have been historically used to insult and deride disabled people, like the R-word, bring up painful emotions in the community. Using disabilities as terms with negative connotations, even to abled people, hurts disabled people by promoting a culture of negativity around disability. Our disabilities are a part of our identity; it is not and should not be an insult for abled-bodied people to fling around.
Growing up with a disability and hearing such a negative connotation behind my identity made me feel ashamed of who I was. I felt lesser than able-bodied people and that my deafness was a weakness rather than a point of pride. Having grown up and become a part of the disabled community, I understand now how ableist language has influenced this negative view on myself, which I’m still working to fix. Even if your intent isn’t to harm us, at least try to set an example for the children growing up within this culture that stigmatizes disability.
A fourth of all the words in the Oxford English Dictionary are adjectives — there’s a plethora of words we can use to describe what we dislike or find frustrating. We must pick words that don’t create slurs or expressions at the expense of those who are disabled or differently abled.
Our identity being used as an insult or expression of frustration underhandedly harms the disability community. It’s a slow and rampant poison to our day-to-day conversations that we need to cleanse our society of. My identity as a deaf person is a point of pride for me and many others in the disability community. Using our pride as insults only strips it away, so recognize it in yourself and call others out for it.
Rose is an English and rhetoric and writing sophomore from The Woodlands. Follow him on Twitter @jeffroses.