Comments on: Doing Social Justice: Thoughts on Ableist Language and Why It Matters Changing the Cultural Conversation Tue, 01 Apr 2014 23:46:48 +0000 hourly 1 By: Nora Mon, 20 Jan 2014 00:00:57 +0000 This is interesting to me. I have what I usually refer to as a “mental illness” but I haven’t delved into the theory behind changing that to “mental disability.” It is something for me to think on.

By: Nora Sun, 19 Jan 2014 23:57:30 +0000 able-bodied* privilege, I should have said.

By: Nora Sun, 19 Jan 2014 23:55:46 +0000 As someone with mental illness, I am acutely, painfully aware of the use of diagnoses/illnesses, etc, being used pejoratively, and it ALWAYS 100% of the time gets under my skin. Especially as someone with bipolar disorder, I get physically tense and frustrated when I hear people say things along the lines of the usual “she is so bipolar!” when they mean “moody” or “difficult” or whatever they choose to poorly articulate by appropriating and invalidating my experience.

I rarely correct people, but perhaps I should do so more.

A close friend of mine is super interested in disability studies and has an invisible disability, and we love conversations like this. This post has really opened my eyes to the fact that while I don’t think I use these metaphors very often, if at all, I am far less conscious of some of the more seemingly-innocuous ones (“lame”, etc). It is important to remember the history of these words and because of this post I hope I will be even more sensitive to the flippant use of ableist language.

We have so many wonderful words at our disposal, there is simply no need to choose the ones that connote ableist privilege.

Thank you for the post!

By: Linda Levitan Wed, 15 Jan 2014 20:24:49 +0000 Michael D’Antonio’s book “The State Boys Rebellion” recounts the tragedy and crime of boys who had no families or whose families were ruled incapable of caring for them, and who were warehoused in the Walter E. Fernald School for the Feebleminded in Waltham, Massachusetts, an institution for society’s younger castoffs. They received practically no education, and were subject to abuse and mistreatment. This institution was founded during the heyday of the eugenics movement.

The term “moron” was coined in 1920 by Henry H. Goddard, best known for his notorious (and discredited) 1912 book, “The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness,” one of the movement’s classics.

D’Antonio’s book details how the boys were encouraged to join a “Science Club” and receive larger rations of oatmeal and tickets to Red Sox games. The oatmeal was given to them with radioactive milk, and, of course, without their informed consent. It was part of an MIT research project to track the absorption of calcium and iron.

Fred Boyce, who spearheaded the class-action suit against MIT and Quaker Oats, had been labeled “moron” when he was admitted to Fernald, and this label stayed in his official records all his life, despite his attempt to have it removed. After he was released from Fernald, he taught himself to read, hired a tutor to improve his literacy, and became a successful operator of a carnival-concessions booth. He discovered that, far from being intellectually dull, he had above-average intelligence. He died in 2006, age 65, of colon cancer, possibly caused by the radioactive oatmeal. Although he forgave his family and the Fernald staff, he knew well how damaging labels can be.

By: Gnat Sun, 12 Jan 2014 04:27:57 +0000 Thank you for you clarifications. I suppose this seems basic to some, but pointing out the subconsious word associations in such common phrases really helped me to grasp this article more fully. Of course, it is no one who identifies as disabled’s job to make these connections apparent & educate the able-bodied, but I appreciate you taking the time to do so.

By: BlindQueer Mon, 30 Dec 2013 16:13:47 +0000 Tam, while “blind” isn’t pejorative in and of itself, it becomes pejorative when we use it to mean “in denial”, “oblivious”, “obtuse”, “stubborn”, “immoral”, “unscrupulous”, “incompetent”, etc. Our language regularly equates sight and light with understanding, knowledge, and compassion. And the flip-side is that blindness and darkness get associated with all the negative traits I just listed. Think of these metaphors/phrases and what they really mean:
Love is blind. – Being in love causes you to be in denial of people’s flaws. – Blindness = denial
Turn a blind eye (and a deaf ear) = let something immoral happen. Blindness (and deafness) = immorality, enabling wrongdoing
Blind to the truth. – Seeing is being aware and blindness is being unaware. Blind = oblivion, unawareness
The blind leading the blind. – Incompetent people are being led by people who are just as incompetent. Blindness = incompetence

And the thing is that often sighted people don’t realize this, but people actually start to internalize these associations with blindness and then those associations inform how they interact with blind people.

As a blind person, language like this is what leads to people assuming that I really am oblivious to my environment. It’s what leads them to project their idea of blindness as tragic onto me. People regularly suggest I pass off my pet dog as a guide dog because they assume I really am immoral. They’re surprised when I do well in my field of choice because they assume that I really am incompetent. And all of this happens just below the surface. They’re not aware of it and if I try to call them out on it, often they will deny it. But their questions, their comments, strongly point to their subconscious association between blindness and the traits mentioned.

It’s a similar phenomenon where the word “gay” itself isn’t pejorative, but when it’s used to mean “annoying” or “strange” then it becomes pejorative. People have started to understand that language like “that’s so gay” perpetuates heterosexism. This is the same concept–language like “what are you, blind?” perpetuates ableism.

By: Julianne Bonta Mon, 30 Dec 2013 08:14:32 +0000 This is so powerful, it shakes me to my very core. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and encouraging discussion on the issue of why abelist language use has got to stop. I am going to take a huge personal risk here and admit that as a deaf person, I struggle with my ability to access any spoken language, and much of what is written using languages grounded in the experiences of hearing persons. This often feels oppressive to me in ways I hope to explore more openly, using modes of expression and language that reflect my life experience. I am also sure there are ableist tendencies in my own language use and I’d really like to address them. TY again, for putting this out here.

By: Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg Mon, 04 Nov 2013 17:41:12 +0000 Dejah, please read my comment more carefully. My point is that I did not use the word “hatred” to refer to the word “stupid.” I have used it to refer to another word — a fact that I also note in my comment.

The point here isn’t that people are “bothered” by disability slurs, though systemic issues often get minimized to personal hurt. This isn’t about personal offense. It’s about how words reflect and reinforce ableism in the larger society, with all of the abuses and civil rights violations that flow from that.

Lastly — Telling people that “they must deal” is not welcome here. You’re free to disagree with anything I write, truly, but not on the basis of “people just need to suck it up.” This is a space to discuss representations of disability and their implications for our lives. If you feel that people just need to get over it, this probably isn’t the right blog for you.

By: Dejah Sun, 03 Nov 2013 12:47:49 +0000 I feel I must point out that in the next post, Disability as the Ultimate Insult, Rachael uses “hate” exactly in the manner in which she claims she does not use the term in her comment above. Just noting.

On the one hand, language can be used to communicate or to wound… as a pen or as a club. And I prefer it as a pen… but I also don’t like to get wrapped arou d the axel about every use of every word. If you *can’t see* the impact of racism in your actions, you *are* “blind” to it by every meaningful definition. If this bothers people who also literally cannot see concrete objects that others cannot perceive certain things, they must deal. They do not own the inability to perceive just because their eyes do not work. I do not own pain just because I suffer from it chronically. Other people will have other sorts of pain, both physical, mental, emotional, and yes, metaphorical, including but not limited to financial, political, job related, and Internet drama.

Just because society is ablist doesn’t mean I have to internalize it.

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