Eliminate Ableism for Greater Equality

Society is progressing, albeit excruciatingly slowly, towards a higher level of acceptance for people in marginalized and oppressed groups. Why, then, do we allow ableist language to run rampant in our vocabularies? This is a widespread and largely ignored trend, and it needs to be stopped immediately.

Many people have not even heard of ableist language, or even the concept of ableism itself. This is how little our culture cares about people affected by these things. To put it simply, ableism is the discrimination against mentally or physically disabled people. Anyone who has a mental illness, a chronic illness, a developmental disorder, and a huge spectrum of other disabilities, can be negatively affected by ableism. Ableist language is any terms that perpetuate this discrimination, and is very harmful to any neuro-atypical or physically disabled people. Then, it makes sense that it is not widely used, right? That’s where you would be wrong.

Ableist language has weaseled its way into our everyday vocabulary. There are many commonplace words such as idiot, lame, dumb, and crazy which can forward the underlying themes of ableism in our society. But they’re just words. How can they be damaging?

When a disabled person hears someone using terms with ableist histories as insults, it can send the message that they are bad. It tells them that they are worthless, and that their disabilities are nothing more than negative connotations. When an autistic person hears someone use autistic as an insult, it tells them that autism is something negative, something to be ashamed of. In reality, autism can make people more creative and passionate, but when neurotypical people associate it with insults, they will come to believe that autism is exclusively negative. This is just one example out of many.

Ableist language needs to be eliminated from our vocabularies. Pay attention to your words, and replace potentially harmful terms with better and more specific insults, such as boring, nonsensical, and confusing. When you hear other people using harmful language, call them out on it. If you are neurotypical and/or able-bodied, you have a position of power that makes you responsible for eliminating ableism in our world.

It is a small step among many, but removing ableist language is beneficial to the progression of equality. Please, think before you speak, and choose your language carefully.

For a more complete list of ableist terms, why they are bad, and more replacement language, I would recommend this article by Lydia Brown on ableism in language.