I Didn’t Mean it That Way

CN: Ableist Slurs and discussion of other slurs.

Earlier this month, I recorded an interview (p1, p.2) on the Atheistically Speaking podcast. During the discussion, the subject of ableist language came up and rapidly turned into a debate. While the conversation was happening I misunderstood part of what Thomas was saying. During the argument he kept suggesting that using the word gay as a pejorative was different than using one like crazy or lame because it only had the one meaning. While I didn’t understand entirely what he was getting at at the time, I believe I do now. He meant that when people use the word gay to denote something bad, they are aware of the related meaning and therefore mean the associated bigotry, whereas many people are no longer aware of the non-pejorative meaning of ableist words.

I understand where he is coming from. It is back to that old argument of intent versus result. Many people believe that if their intention is not to insult the people who may be associated with the label, then the usage should not be counted as a slur. Taking it further, if most people are unaware of the original meaning, then how does it continue to be harmful?.

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I Didn’t Mean it That Way


CN: For Ableist slurs.

I have a challenge for all of my blogger friends. I want you to try and go one month without using the list of words below. For one month, in your blog posts and public opinions, I want you to not use these words. I will explain why. I will give you a reason, and regardless of whether you agree with me or not, I want you to try. For me.

Why does this matter?

The truth is that the concerns of the disabled community are often pushed to the side or seen as less important. Just a year ago there was almost a network wide outrage over being called on the use of ableist sentiments and words.  It ended with one of the more dedicated and active disability and neurodiversity activists, who has actually created a lot of the accepted vocabulary of the neurodivergent movements, accused of being a troll. The concerns were ignored, a new network was launched, and little to no progress was made in improving the use of ableist language or sentiments in our community. The verdict was in. As one person famously put it: disability activism is not a real thing.

And then the whole thing was ignored. For most people it was just not enough of a big deal.

Every few months someone writes a post asking people to not use “crazy” as a pejorative, that gets summarily ignored.

And these things do matter. In the same way that racialized words perpetuate systemic racism, and the same way that racialized words can find themselves in the most seemingly benign words, ableism too is so prevalent as to be invisible.

The sad fact is that most ableist slurs are considered the soft swears, the use-instead-ofs. Want to insult someone in relatively polite company? Chances are you may reach for one of these as a stand-by. But words matter. Language shapes our perception and when we make disability an insult, when we make ability an insult, we are implying that there is something wrong with being that way. It adds to a system that treats people with disabilities as being less than human. In some cases people go so far as to imply that people with disabilities don’t have feelings or don’t feel pain. Moreover it creates a perceptions, a link between being disabled and being otherwise incompetent.

Continue reading “ABLEISM CHALLENGE”