Logo of two hands holding up a person with text saying Every person with a disability has a right to be safe healthy and happy

Language is Important – Don’t use Disability as an Insult

by | Abuse, Disability

Language is important.

It is a major way of communicating both knowledge and feelings.

When used inappropriately however, it can communicate much more and can cement the disadvantage and “otherness” of people that are “unlike us”.

Over the last few decades, awareness in the general population of this concept has meant that some words have become unused. For example p*fter (homophobic), cr*pple (ableist) and n*gger (racist) are pretty much not used by anyone outside of the members of those minority communities who have sought to reclaim them.

Sadly, I have recently noticed an upsurge in the use of disability “thrown” as an insult.

My own twitter feed has more or less 100% progressive and socially aware people on it – and yet it is full of disability related insults.

Quick search of twitter for “retard” and “moron”
I found so many examples >.<

a root cause of violence, abuse and neglect of people with disability begins with the de-valuing of people with disability

Quote from Executive Summary of Senate Inquiry Report Nov 2015

Already, people with disability have an outrageously high chance of suffering abuse – any/all of physical violence, sexual violence, neglect, emotional violence and financial abuse (stealing). The Senate Inquiry into abuse of people with disability reported in November 2015 that abuse in Australia was systemic and widespread.

People with intellectual disability are twice as likely to die from preventable deaths and die at least 25 years earlier than the general population.

By seeing people with disability as “other”, it allows, for example :

  • for support staff to say things like “they don’t feel pain in the same way we do”
  • for medical staff to say “well I assume you want to put a ‘do not resuscitate’ order on the notes” of a person with a disability who is in intensive care
  • for a young person with a disability to not be invited to a single birthday party during the whole of their school years.

Streamer/Gamer @cherryrae and Teacher/Writer @trucherrygirl calling it like it is
PS “cherry” peeps on twitter seem to be especially awesome!

Marriage Equality happened Dec 2017

“Otherness” allows me to overhear a group of so-called progressive women walking into a coffee shop, decide to deliberately avoid  myself and a disabled young man as we sit enjoying an outing (supposedly to improve his inclusion in community).

Even within the disability community itself, “otherness” occurs where people with low cognitive capacity are seen as considerably down the hierarchy and made invisible by statements such as “just because someone has a disability doesn’t make them ‘vulnerable’ – look at Kurt Fearnley. Nobody would say he was vulnerable”.

The LGBTQI community and other minority communities have fought for inclusion and to some extent have made some great progress (e.g. marriage equality), but a disabled person is still seen as “other”.

This causes huge problems where people have “power” over the “other” person – such as where a person with disability is trying to get or job or is dependent on workers for housing support or personal support. As soon as someone is “other”, it means they are treated differently and the people that have power can justify it to themselves because they’re “not like us”.

Be aware: your use of disabilities as insults does great harm to the disability community by increasing “otherness”

Finally, as @trucherrygirl said above, there are lots of other alternative words to use … here’s some examples.

Use them.  

By the way, you can download the above image and use it (without changes) to educate people if you wish. 

Citation: Zevallos, Z. (2011) ‘What is Otherness?,’ The Other Sociologist, 14 Oct