How does ableist language promote ableism?
'Crazy,' 'Insane'-- How Language promotes an Ableist approach
Ableist Language promotes ableism because it centers around the belief that “typical” abilities are superior and that disabled people are imperfect.
Words and actions value everything around us, and unknowingly using ableist words influences your future actions, thoughts, and attitude toward disabled people.
We need actively promote Inclusive Language is part of a new way of conceiving disabilities, vulnerabilities, difficult conditions, and diversity as a whole.
What does Ableist mean?
Before you continue reading, take a minute and type ‘ableism meaning' on google. What did you get?
A basic definition of Ableism on the internet looks like this — Ableism is the discrimination in favor of non-disabled people. Those unfamiliar with the term may not realize 'the wrong' in this definition. But it does exist.
When the person who reads this is not aware of whom it goes 'against,' they may have a vague understanding of the term. It also shows the non-inclusive nature of society at large. To many, it seems like a minor issue, but Language has a more significant role in shaping perceptions about people, things, and ideas.
A better definition for Ableism is suggested by the Oxford dictionary, which puts the main focus on disabled people. Here it is– 'Ableism is unfair treatment of or negative attitudes towards disabled people.'
Ableist language crops up in the slang we use, like calling something “dumb” or “lame,” or someone "crazy," or making a declaration like, “I’m so OCD!”
In the same context, when we use words like lame, crazy, or insane to ridicule an idea, thing, or person, we unconsciously promote Ableist Language.
A speaker may not use these ableist words intentionally, but the emotion it conveys is to make fun of or mock a person, thing, or idea they dislike. Let's consider these examples–
- A video showing a disabled person normally seen in a wheelchair standing during an event is 'inspirational.'
- A newspaper headline– Government turns 'deaf' to the pleas of Olympic Star.
- A person in a restaurant calls the waiter 'blind' for ignoring his instructions.
- Telling someone, “You don't look disabled,” as though this is a compliment.
- Using the expression “falling on deaf ears."
Go through these ableist examples carefully and look at how commonly we promote the biases without any realization. Your intent could be positive or negative, yet it stigmatizes and marginalizes disabled people. It builds a narrative that disabled people are inferior to the non-disabled. But is it a new phenomenon?
Ableist language promotes biases and prejudice
What is the alternative? Disability Inclusive Language
Language is a tool humans use for sharing their ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The words we use are powerful enough to build a society and even destroy one. Imagine its impact on the minds of disabled people who struggle to be accepted yet continually experience language that builds a narrative that disabled people are inferior.
We know that in most instances, the intent behind ableist language is not to hurt anyone's feelings, but it still does.
But imagine how a deaf person feels when they read a headline stating their CEO is 'deaf' to workers' demands. Or take the example mentioned above, where overcoming the disability for a few seconds gets big applause. Do you know what's wrong here? It's not the applause! It is inspiration porn: the portrayal of disabled people as being inspirational to non-disabled people on the basis of their life circumstances.
Our words and actions value everything around us, and when unknowingly you promote ableist words, it influences your future actions, thoughts, and attitude towards disabled people. Here's more about the influencing nature of Ableist language–
It makes us “Normalize” harmful biases. So, be Inclusive!
When you use disability to support your jokes or metaphors, you are normalizing the usage of ableist slurs that dehumanize and stigmatize someone with physical or mental disability. And, when you do it in a group, the others will do the same. A disabled person may internalize your tropes whatever your intent or inherent message.
However, you can stop this from happening by using one-liners that do not mark-out disabled people. The fun doesn’t have to stop, but it needs to be inclusive of all.
Stigmatizes already marginalized communities
When you try to make a point with ableist words, the focus of your message shifts from the theme and normalizes inferior status to disabilities. If we say, “Y is psycho to make such a filthy statement in a media conference,” the focus is to insult Y by equating his mental and physical abilities as something derogatory and inferior in comparison to us.
Instead of ableist slurs, try to support the arguments with your genuine reasons why you agree or disagree. That way, we can welcome a new inclusive environment where people do not ridicule each other based on natural traits.
Ignorant usage of ableist language reveals our unconscious biases
In this blog, we have used the terms– unintentional, unconscious, and unintended two-three times. The reason is—- our usage of ableist Language is not directed against a disabled person; still, it shows our attitude towards disabled people. And when you use ableist terms at the workplace, at family gatherings, or neighborhood, you end up rationalizing that disabled people are unwelcome. It depicts how a negative idea regarding disability deeply manifests in our minds.
Our usage of ableist Language is not directed against a disabled person; still, it shows our attitude towards disabled people.
Alternative – Embrace Diversity
Is it that easy? Being hopeful is good, but if you think only disability inclusive Language can help disabled people feel welcomed, you are unaware of the reality.
Because making a situation better takes effort at every level, be it social, political, or economic. Workplaces need to embrace diversity, the administration needs to address the problems at the political level, and we can take small steps as a society. The first step begins when we acknowledge the social model of disability: "people are disabled by social barriers, not by their impairment or difference."
Next, learn and unlearn. I don't think only learning can improve our mindsets. Learning without unlearning still means holding biases and prejudices. So, unlearn what you must. Still, mistakes can happen, and if they do, apologize genuinely.
Finally – Promote Inclusive Language
Inclusive language is part of a new way of conceiving disabilities, vulnerabilities, difficult conditions, and diversity as a whole. It can help us overcome obsolete modes, which convey stigmatized, distorted, and often offensive images.
As you know, human development is a continuous and spontaneous process, so there is considerable scope for language development. The language used to talk about disability and disabled people have evolved over time, and terms commonly used some years ago are no longer acceptable. It's time we encourage Inclusive Language at every level. Language development may take years, but we need change now. But how?
Little efforts here and there on your part can bring awareness about the subject. You can begin with disability inclusive clothing or join next year’s Disability Pride Parade. Gradually, we all can advance!
Brendan McDonald is a co-founder of URevolution. He has peripheral neuropathy and chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML), amongst other conditions.