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Left Turns and Other Obstacles

Posted in: The AB Helpdesk
Published: 18 January 2017

Say The Word

Euphemisms are insults.
I recently read a study from England that said disabled people are still being marginalized by negative public attitudes – with a quarter (26%) of Brits admitting that they have avoided conversations with disabled people.

The reasons they gave were: feelings of nothing in common (48%), fear of causing offense (30%), feeling uncomfortable (20%) and not knowing what to talk about (17%).

My first thought was SERIOUSLY?? In the 21st century, when amputees make the finals on Dancing with the Stars, blind skiers race down alpine courses, wheelchair users are doctors and teachers, people are so unsophisticated and precious that they don't know what to say to someone only because they are disabled?

If it were 1940 I could understand it, but today, in 2017 30% were afraid of causing offense, which I assume to mean with words, and since I live in this community and this affects us all, I wanted to find out WHY they were concerned about what to say, so I did what any reasonable person would do.

I googled “politically correct terms for cripples” and “acceptable names to call handicaps” looking for clarification.

I wanted to find out WHY they were concerned about what to say, so I did what any reasonable person would do. I googled “politically correct terms for cripples” and “acceptable names to call handicaps” looking for clarification.
One result had a laughable list of “six things never to say about disabilities” that included the instruction to never use the word disabled, because it could be considered disrespectful.

Another had “seven things never to say” and a most helpful university website instructed non-disabled students to remember that “people with disabilities have the same feelings as you”.

I skipped the 36 PAGE instruction manual on dealing with disabled people, for obvious reasons.

Site after site had the same patronizing fluff... be careful, handicapped people are strange, don't offend them, crouch down and speak directly to them, look them in the eye, don't shout etc but whatever you do, NEVER EVER refer to their disability as, well, a disability, because, well, you know... they can't handle that.

Many included a helpful list of words to be eliminated from our collective vocabulary and what to replace them with. All patronizing, politically correct, condescending, demeaning, and all rejected decades ago by our community.

There was another common thread. It was the matter of fact portrayal of disabled people as a collective, without differentiation and without any intellectual capacity, so different and strange that instructions are required.

Political correctness is the evil twin of ableism - a bludgeon used to deflect from real issues, as though it's not the actual cause, under the guise of paternalism.
The irony is that it shows the writers for what they are, shallow and provincial, clueless to the fact that their bias is blatantly on display, so frightened of offending someone for the situation they created and forced us into that they do the very thing they're trying to avoid.

They dismiss and diminish the reality of it by refusing to use the word disabled, substituting it instead with euphemisms like handicapable, special needs, physically challenged, differently abled, height impaired and the most egregious of all - the evil twin sister of ableism - the politically correct "people with disabilities".

In addition to being profoundly insulting and grammatically incorrect, "people with (insert disability here)" is force fed to us by able bodied people (not one of whom ever asked ME, an actual disabled person what I wanted to be called - hint it's Kim) acting as though it's a nod to our inclusion when it's just another barrier to it, with the added benefit of being a band-aid for non-disabled people trying to make themselves feel better about disabling us with policy.

The insulting part isn't only the terms, it's the underlying implication.

When someone uses a euphemism to refer to disability, they are openly saying that the very state of being disabled is an unpleasant, offensive, embarrassment that has no place in polite society.

That is offensive to all disabled people, even if the euphemist doesn't understand that.

Euphemism - noun: a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant, or embarrassing.
To the euphemist, their insistence on insulting us to our faces isn't a bad thing. To them, it's a tacit acknowledgement that they get it, that they understand being disabled is so horrible that they'll make a nice cutesy name for it, or separate you from it, implying that it will somehow take the edge off the reality of the situation.

It's not so bad, you're not disabled, you're HANDICAPABLE! You're a person with a disability. Completely different.

You may as well tell me you don't see me as disabled, which is another backhanded compliment, because it does the same thing,

It's a status conferred by people who think they're being supportive but are really saying it sucks to be disabled so I'm going to position myself above you and tell you it's ok, you're not really “one of them”. And even though you are, I'm going to pretend you aren't. So you feel better.

I know I'm supposed to be flattered by that extra care (it said so on the websites) but I'm not.

I'm disdainful that someone would toss something like that out at a disabled person and expect any reaction other than dismissive incredulity.

When someone uses a euphemism to refer to disability, they are openly saying that the very state of being disabled is an unpleasant, offensive, embarrassment that has no place in polite society.
You'd think that this is long settled settled science, but it's not. It comes up again and again, every time someone joins the disabled community.

Their complete lack of knowledge of what and who has come before them, combined with their unbridled enthusiasm to “change the world” they've just arrived in (and would do anything to leave) is always skewed with the non-disabled worldview, bringing BACK long rejected terminology and optics with the zest of the newly converted.

Their inner circle adopts these backward concepts out of a sense of solidarity with their newly disabled friend and try to help them stay in the non-disabled headspace by using soft language which then spreads like a virus though all the gushy news articles and other media who are also treading lightly, because they know it could be them at some point, being removed from real society and relegated to the short bus.

This negates the decades of activism and work done by thousands of disabled people, causing us to redo work we've already done, time and time again. All to placate the people who had the power to change it, but didn't.

The word "disabled" in today's lexicon means "prevented from functioning". That is the reality. #SayTheWord
Happy words describing disability are not only belittling, they are not inclusive in any way, in fact they do just the opposite by adding a layer of fragile, unstable, untouchability to disabled people, creating an “otherness” and the erroneous impression that we have to be treated differently.

They are the antithesis of what we've been working toward for decades which is really just anonymous participation.

It's exhausting having to be ten times better to be seen as half as good.

When we shift the focus to the state of disability and away from the person who is affected by that state, it changes the entire narrative. It removes the "blame the victim" connotation that comes with the "people with disabilities" phrase, and shares the opportunity and power to change it with everyone.

When someone won't use a word or phrase because THEY have an issue with it and think other people will get upset, that's called projection. What is offensive is the presumption that their lowered expectations of me are normal, only because I'm disabled.

Originally published in Thrive Magazine, 2017
established in 1994
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