Disability and Representation

Changing the Cultural Conversation

Disability as the Ultimate Insult

I heard a disability slur the other day that I’d never run across before. It was in a social justice context (surprise surprise), and one commenter said to another: “If you really believe that, you probably shouldn’t go out without a carer.”

Ah, yes. It’s the ultimate insult: Being disabled and needing a caregiver. Wow. Is that the hierarchy in which most people live? Yes. Could the hatred be any clearer? I don’t think so. That kind of thinking¬† speaks volumes about how even the most enlightened radical folk see disabled people — which makes such radical folk not radical at all, but really quite mainstream.

I am always pushing back against this kind of talk. I am always asking for people to stop using disability slurs. But on days like today, I wonder whether I shouldn’t just be quiet and let people have at it. At least, that way, the degree to which they despise us would be out in the open.

Perhaps I should just collect all of these instances and publish them. That way, no one can say, “Oh, no, no, no, no. Don’t be ridiculous. There is no such thing as disability hatred.”

© 2013 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg


  1. 9/16/2013 | 2:51 pm Permalink

    Rachel – I agree with both your anger and frustration. I have been active in the disability community as an advocate here in Florida for many years.

    It never ceases to amaze me how even persons with disabilities can be insensitive to the feelings of others.

    I am a member of our local Children’s Alliance – we are a group that promotes services for children and provide a sounding board and meeting for those interested in helping children. I have tried for years to get children with disabilities included – but they only give it lip service. When money is released, grants offered or even speaking time allotted – children with disabilities are not included.

    All any of us can do is to keep doing what we do. Keep making noise and as my son says – keep squeaking our wheels.

  2. 9/16/2013 | 6:23 pm Permalink

    I love your articles and insights of common society especially. Seeing this with “social justice” people makes me feel hopeless. There is an avalanche of hate constantly coming our way. And murders. I feel like I am a car in one of those recycling-yard compactors. All side pushing on us; except people like you. The breathing straw is getting bigger, but we are mostly still under water.

  3. 9/17/2013 | 2:23 am Permalink

    I think that collecting the insults is not a bad idea. I am sure that many don’t even have a sense how often they use the disabled and disability as an insult. Until I started really reading disability studies, I was not aware of how easily things like that come out. Your example is out there and I would imagine if someone pointed it out, the person would be set back a little. But the things that are a regular part of our language is what I am dealing with. Thank you for the post.

  4. 9/18/2013 | 12:37 pm Permalink

    I Love it. Collect and publish so we the “Disabled” can compare it with the daily crap and have a great laugh at the illiterate able bodied!!!
    I Don’t care what they think of me.

  5. 11/3/2013 | 5:21 am Permalink

    I don’t understand the intersection with social justice and why the negative connotation on the term and the sense of inevitability that disrespect should come from that quarter?

    Also, I see disrespect in what was said, a diminishment of agency, but I am not sure I would call that “hate.” Maybe I am quibbling on semantics… Along the lines of, “I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.”

    • 11/4/2013 | 10:42 am Permalink

      If you read my other posts, you’ll see how often I struggle against ableism in social justice circles. The sense of inevitability that it will emerge comes from the fact that I have never been in a social justice space in which ableism wasn’t pervasive — for the simple reason that most people do not see disability as a social justice or civil rights issue.

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