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July 17, 2017 | by  | in Can Do | [ssba]

Access Denied

Most of us don’t tend to analyse every single sentence that goes through our heads; we just go ahead and speak. But this isn’t always the best thing. While some words have clear meanings, such as “beautiful,” which expresses something explicitly positive, some words have historically been used to demean minorities and their use has now become normalised. These words include “lame,” “insane,” and “crazy.”

No doubt you’ve heard or used these words in pretty ordinary contexts; “That’s so lame!” “Urgh, they’re crazy…” and “That’s insane!” They seem to be so deeply ingrained in our society’s lexicon that they’ve become the default, instead of saying “That’s so uncool!” “Urgh they’re unbelievable…” or “That’s ridiculous!”

These words gained their negative connotations by being used to refer to people who had (or may have had) some form of disability. “Lame” for the soldier who badly injured their leg in a war. “Crazy” for the person who experienced trauma in the past and had flashbacks that caused them great distress. “Insane” for the person with mental illness.

Although society has come a fair way in the acknowledgement of injuries that cause a person to lose some or all of their mobility, understanding how something like PTSD can cause major distress for a person, or how important it is to talk about mental health, is still something to be worked on. Ableist words are still bandied around as though there is nothing wrong with them.

We need to consider how using these words as negative adjectives, casually and without thought, perpetuates discrimination against people with disabilities. And just because you didn’t mean it “that way” doesn’t mean that it doesn’t evoke a memory of oppression in disabled people that will make them feel unsafe around you.

And now we can hear the cries of “But my free speech!” and “PC culture had gone too far!” Stop. You do have free speech; you’re not going to be thrown in jail for using problematic language and slurs. You have “the right” to use these words, but that doesn’t mean that people aren’t going to think you’re an arsehole. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Try to educate yourself on the oppressive history that some words hold. If you can reduce the harm you do, why wouldn’t you? Not everyone has the privilege of being able to ignore bigotry. Putting your convenience over other people’s wellbeing is a pretty weak excuse.

Let’s create a culture where we all feel comfortable calling out ableist language and all other forms of bigotry. We’re in a time that is increasingly intolerant of racism, misogyny, queerphobia, and other forms of bigoted rhetoric; let’s not let ableism sneak by unnoticed. Boldly stand up to ableism and all forms of bigotry, feeling secure that it’s the right thing to do.

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