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Writer Wednesday: Ableist Language in Writing

Good Morning Authors and Welcome to another Writer Wednesday. In case you missed it, this month is Disability Awareness month. Millions of people live with disability, yet there is still a monumental gap in our every day knowledge and empathy when it comes to understanding disabilities. So many disabilities are stigmatized and carry negative connotations, not only due to lack of understanding but from the way our history has demonized, disregarded, and mocked those with disabilities. Despite the advances we have made as a society towards embracing and treating disabilities, there is still a great deal of misinformation and negative stereotypes that present an exhausting everyday battle.

What is Ableism?

"Ableism is the discrimination of and social prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior. At its heart, ableism is rooted in the assumption that disabled people require ‘fixing’ and defines people by their disability." Ableism 101 by Ashely Eisenmenger

Ableism in Our Language

That level of prejudice is insidious. It's become engrained in our every day language, something that slips into our every day speech in throw away phrases we often don't think twice about.

"You're crazy."

"You're retarded."

"What, are you deaf?"

"You're such a spaz."

"You are so lame."

The language has become engrained in our jokes, metaphors, and euphemisms. Each of the above examples has a history embedded in prejudice. What is said jokingly at a friend has been used to torment others. This is learned language and the act of unlearning it is not an overnight process.

None of us are perfect. Despite my own personal history, it took a very excellent editor pointing out the usage of the word 'crazy' for me to start digging and understanding how deep these prejudices have buried themselves in our culture. Just as we must educate ourselves in our understanding of race, gender, and sexuality, it takes effort and time to reorient our way of thinking and to re-evaluate our language. Too often, the usage of language is dismissed under the banner of 'political correctness' when in truth, words often leave the deepest scars.

The first step to enacting a shift in our language and our way of thinking is recognizing the usage of these words for what they are; another from of social discrimination, so deeply layered in our social consciousness, we literally pick it up in playground chatter. It took decades for 'retarded' to be shoved out of general text book usage. And as much as we need to teach ourselves not to use these words, we also can't dismiss the history behind them. It's vital to know the history behind our language, because without acknowledging that context, we don't understand why we need to stop. Ableist language still permeates much of the literature taught in schools and unless we allow ourselves to teach and learn the history behind prejudice, then we hobble the foundation to unlearning it.

On a personal front, consider your own words, the phrases and euphemisms that you might not think twice about. What language has crept into your writing that you don't think about? It might shock you how much there is and how easily we don't notice it.

Resources & Further Reading

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