Category Archives: language

Wikipedia and Disability

Earlier this week, Netmouse contacted me and let me know that she and some other people had pulled together a Wikipedia article on Laura Hershey, which has now passed Wiki’s notability test. She invited others to come in and edit the post for clarity and any additional information.

I find Wikipedia to be an interesting tool with regards to ableism, disability theory, and awareness building. One of our regular commenters, Julie, brought my attention a while ago to Wiki’s Disability Portal, which includes links to concepts like Ableism (which includes disableism), Pejorative Disability Terms, and a discussion of the North American ideal of People-First Language.

I also must admit to having leaned pretty darn heavily on Wikipedia during International Day of Disabled Persons, which was Friday. I spent part of the day linking people to Wiki articles on Disability Rights Activists including Laura, Gabby Brimmer, Chai Feldblum, and Paul Longmore (whose article is orphaned and needs some Wiki-edits for more link love). You can see an incomplete list of Disability Rights Activists as well.

I know I’m not alone in being aware that there are people who still insist – despite all evidence to the contrary – that disability rights activism sprung into existence the moment they were first irritated by someone saying “He, that’s ableist”. I like that editors at Wikipedia have worked hard to develop the disability portal, and that Wikipedia’s policies about editing mean that anyone can edit to expand and clarify disability-related articles.

Today in Journalism: The Disabled

Usually I relish picking apart a crappy article in the news for this feature, but today, I want to take a moment to rant about a phenomenon so widespread in the media that I don’t feel fair singling out one poor journalist for my ire. I’m cruel, but not unreasonably so. Also, I had a hard time picking between so many examples, but the first explanation makes me sound like a nicer person, so let’s go with that, ok? Excellent.

‘The disabled.’

Almost every time I read an article covering disability in some way or another, this noxious turn of phrase comes up. ‘The disabled’ say this and ‘the disabled’ do that and ‘the disabled’ feel this way about something. It’s a dehumanising way of referring to people with disabilities, as though we are a vague, collective mass that all think, behave, and act in the same way. It assumes that our experiences are shared and universal. ‘The disabled,’ you know, they are all alike.

This is not the first time this subject has come up here. Anna wrote about it in June.

This contributes to the de-humanization of disabled people. “The disabled” aren’t people, they’re a big collective noun who can’t be reasoned with, can’t be talked to, can’t be considered – they’re just to be placated, and dealt with, and put out of our minds as quickly as possible in case they sue us.

So did I, for that matter.

We are not a monolith. Or a collective noun. Nor are our disabilities the sum total of our identities.

Every time I encounter this phrasing, I am reminded that people think we are interchangeable, that we do not think and act independently, that we are just a kind of amorphous mass over there somewhere. You know. The disabled. I need look no further than the comments section of this very site to know that people with disabilities do not, in fact, agree with each other on everything. That we do not, in fact, have the same lived experiences. Nor do we conceive of disability in the same way, have the same ideas about how to address issues we deal with in our daily lives. I, for example, cannot be interchanged with commenter Astrid. Astrid and I even share some disabilities! But we are not members of the Borg.

People treat us like we are. It is assumed that accommodations are one size fits all, for example, which has real world consequences for people who need accommodations. Writing off an entire group of people with a collective noun is a neat way to shove them in a box and not think about them, and when that collective noun is in widespread and acceptable use (a number of journalism style guides approve ‘the disabled’), society internalises the attitudes that go along with it.

The media seems to  have learned that it’s not ok to say ‘the women’ or ‘the gays,’ referring to an entire group of people with a collective noun, like they are a flock of sheep. It has been suggested that this is not very helpful, that it tends to strip people of their humanity. Yet, the same has not been extended to people with disabilities. We are still ‘the disabled,’ viewed as a generic collective, in most media outlets. Exact phrasing varies from journalist to journalist and some are better about it than others, clearly making a conscious choice to humanise us by using a more appropriate phrasing when referring to members of the disabled community.

‘The disabled’ is not just a problem because it’s a reminder that people think we are all the same. It is also a reduction of our identities to our disabilities. And people feel free saying it about individual disabilities, too. ‘The bipolar.’ ‘The borderline.’ ‘The paraplegic.’ And so on. This framing reminds us that this is all we are; that our identities consist wholly of a single noun. You can aspire to nothing in life because you’re ‘the disabled.’

Asking people to say ‘person with…’ or ‘disabled person’ sounds nitpicky. It sounds fussy. We get challenged on it all the time. But it’s not unreasonable. It’s a request that people consider the fact that a huge percentage of the population is disabled, and there’s no way that, say, 20% of the people in the United States think, behave, and feel in exactly the same way. We are all individuals. We are all different.

We are not ‘the disabled.’

Bingo?

I came across this on tumblr and rolled my eyes so hard they just about fell out of my head. I feel like I should get bingo just for looking at it:

a clip from tumblr. there is a photo of a young man face down on asphalt, surrounded by beer bottles. there is text below the photo.The text reads “Even though autism can cripple communication, Paul managed to overcome his disability and save a teens Life. Seeing a 17 year old lying on the ground because of Alcohol poisoning, he went over to him, asked him how he was doing and called 911. To read more click here: [link].”

Inspirational crip! Using the word “cripple” to describe the effect of autism on communication! He “managed” to do something! And thus overcame the immeasurable burden of his disability!

This was posted on the tumblr of the organization “The Friendship Circle,” whose goal is “bring[ing] together teenage volunteers and children with special needs for hours of fun and friendship. … Our special friends blossom and gain the confidence they need to make the most their abilities and talents.”

This has got to be bingo. Someone give me a prize.

Recommended Reading for 1 October, 2010

Gentle reader, be cautioned: comments sections on mainstream media sites tend to not be safe and we here at FWD/Forward don’t necessarily endorse all the opinions in these pieces. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

First up, something close to my heart as a user of Sydney public transport from Jo Tamar at Wallaby: Accessibility and Sydney’s public transport: people with different mobilities on buses. I am forever glaring at the dehumanising ‘For more information on travelling with wheelchairs, seniors and prams’ sign. No pullquote as the post is about too many things for one, you’ll just have to click through.

From Beth Haller, Ph.D. & Lingling Zhang, Ph.D., both of Towson University, Towson, Md., USA, at Media and disability resources, we have Highlights of 2010 survey of people with disabilities about media representations, and is there ever a lot packed in there:

In the summer of 2010, an online survey of people with disabilities from around the world was undertaken to find out what they think about their representation by the news and entertainment media.

From the Associated Press, (US) Congress changes intellectual disability wording:

Disabilities advocates on Thursday applauded Congress for passing legislation that eliminates the term “mental retardation” from federal laws.

Attitudes Towards People with a Disability Changing Ahead of London 2012

Attitudes towards people with a disability in Great Britain are improving and could be one of the legacies of the London 2012 Paralympics, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) were told this week at a three day project review with the London Organizing Committee.

From The Irish Times, State urged to ratify UN disability treaty:

FORMER EU commissioner Pádraig Flynn has called on the Government to ratify the United Nations Treaty on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

Speaking on EU disability policy at NUI Galway, Mr Flynn noted Ireland had signed the treaty in March 2007, but had not progressed to implementing its provisions.

Send your links to recreading[@]disabledfeminists[.]com. Let us know if/how you want to be credited.

Dear Imprudence: Take Your R-Word Somewhere Else

Emily Yoffe has really been striking out in the advice sweepstakes lately, but she redeemed herself in this week’s livechat, when a reader wrote in to say:

Q. Dealing With the R-Word: How can I respond to people who use the word “retard” or “retarded” as derogatory term in my presence? I have two beautiful children (one has autism), but have never used the R-word even before I became a mother. While I realize a vast majority of the time, people who use this term are not referring to people with intellectual disabilities, it still hurts to hear the word since it’s generally used to mean stupid. I have been hearing this word a lot lately—sometimes from younger people, other times from people my age (mid-’30s) or older who throw this word around. When I am in my own home, I just tell the person, “We do not use that word in this house.” When I am at another person’s home, I don’t know what to say, so I keep quiet (even though it doesn’t feel right) or leave. And what about when I’m in a neutral place? By the way, my son is almost always with me and everyone I associate with knows he has autism, but that doesn’t stop people from using the R-word. Please tell me how I can respond when I hear this word used in everyday conversation.

Here’s what Yoffe responded with:

A: You need to say something in as neutral a way as possible. If the word is being used to describe someone with an intellectual disability, you need to say something like, “I’m sure you didn’t mean to be insulting. But retarded is an outmoded word that many people find offensive.” Then offer what you prefer as a better term. If it’s being used as a general insult, you should also speak up and explain that word is so hurtful that you’d prefer not to hear it.

On the nose, Prudie. It’s important for the letter writer to not just speak up when it’s used to talk about a human being, but also just generally, to explain that it’s hurtful and has negative associations. I imagine the letter writer is going to get some pushback on that, but a few seeds will be planted, as well, and people might start thinking twice about how they use words like the R-word. A lot of people use exclusionary language out of ignorance and may be unaware that they are hurting people around them, and providing a quick heads up on the matter in a way designed to make confrontation difficult (by making the other person look bad if ou gets confrontational about a perfectly reasonable request) can go a long way to eliminating hateful uses of words like this one.

And, of course, pushback appeared within the livechat itself:

Q. The R-Word: I feel for this woman, but when I buy mulch that retards weeds, do I need to apologize for that? Should we just remove that word from the dictionary?

A: Talking about retarding the growth of weeds is a great way to preserve a useful word.

This is a really common response to discussions about language. The interrogator decides the subject is ‘too sensitive’ and thus deliberately misreads the discussion and the request to stop using a particular word to drag in an unrelated use of a word, sometimes a word that sounds similar, but actually has an entirely different root and origins (although that is not the case with the R-word and ‘retard’ in the sense of ‘flame-retardant’). To me, it reads like an attempt to use the ‘bad word’ as many times as possible in a sanctioned way: ‘But I just want to have a discussion!’

This reaction also raises a fundamental point about our common humanity. When I first started learning about and engaging with exclusionary language (because none of us are born knowing these things, let alone in a language that’s not our first), I was sometimes puzzled about why particular words were being identified as harmful, but the immediacy of the situation struck me. Here was a person, another human being, right in front of me, saying ‘please don’t use this word around me, it hurts me.’ What possible rational response could there be, other than to stop using that word around that person even if I privately disagreed, or to say, ‘I’m sorry this word makes you feel uncomfortable, but I use it to self identify in a reclamatory way, not generally to refer to people or as a pejorative.’

Today in Journalism: Athlete Overcomes Euphemism to Hang Ten

Up today, a Global Surf News feature on ‘challenged athletes’ competing in Duke’s Oceanfest, a surfing event held in Hawaii. Oceanfest celebrates Duke Kahanamoku, a Hawaiian surfing legend, and the event is used to raise funds to support scholarships for Hawaiian athletes. This year’s event featured an exhibition by disabled athletes participating in AccesSurf, an organisation that, in their own words: ’empowers people with disabilities by providing adaptive surfing instruction and therapeutic educational programs on water recreation and enriches lives by assisting families to access the beach and ocean in a barrier free environment.’

This sounds like my kind of organisation, and featuring disabled athletes at a big surfing event seems like an excellent idea. In addition to raising awareness about the fact that, yes, people with disabilities can surf and enjoy the beach and deserve to do so, the event could also  be used to highlight accessibility issues. Competitors and members of the audience alike are at a surfing event because they love surfing, and it seems like a great idea to connect on the common ground of love for the ocean to get people thinking about accessibility and the integration of people with disabilities into society in general, not just the surfing community.

Of course, the takeaway from this feature article is somewhat different. There is nary a mention of accessibility issues, for example. The words ‘challenged athletes’ get used over and over again, perhaps because the schedule has the event noted as ‘AccesSurf Challenged Athlete Surfing.’ When all you have to go off is the event programme, and the event programme uses ‘challenged,’ a disability euphemism I for one have always loathed, you’re probably going to repeat that euphemism, because you don’t know any better.

The article stresses that the disabled athletes were ‘inspiring’ and ‘shining.’ That’s not really the takeaway I personally would want people to be left with. It makes it seem as though the athletes were participating for the sole purpose of inspiring nondisabled people and giving them enjoyment, when, actually, they were participating because they love surfing, and they want to highlight the work AccesSurf does in Hawaii. Articles like this always irk me because the focus is solely on what the event being covered does for nondisabled people; it allows people to pat themselves on the back and feel better, but it doesn’t, forgive me, challenge the readers in any way.

One disabled athlete was interviewed for the piece, and he talked about adaptive surfing for muscular dystrophy, and how happy he was to get an opportunity to participate in the event. Props for not making all the competitors nameless and faceless, truly, but the rest of the article gets a resounding raspberry from me. ‘It’s not what you do, it’s the style and spirit with which you do it that shines brightest’ is the lead sentence in the article, and that tells me a lot about how the person writing it thinks about people with disabilities.

This article could have been informative. It could have talked about adaptive aquatic sports to give people an idea of the range of available accommodations that can be used to get people into the water, and to familiarise readers with some of the terminology so they could potentially seek out programs like AccesSurf in their own communities. Surfers interested in participating in adaptive aquatic sports might have taken away useful material from this article. And the piece could have highlighted the work AccesSurf does around beach and ocean accessibility, again giving readers something to take away from the article and apply to their own lives.

Instead, it went for the ‘people with disabilities as entertainment’ narrative, and completely missed the potential for a teachable moment. It certainly didn’t do anything to change the way readers might think about disability; disability is a source of ‘inspiration,’ says the article, and that doesn’t really ask readers to delve a little more deeply into their attitudes and beliefs about disability.

Working Towards the Neutral Place

Something that I see coming up a lot in discussions about language is the argument that, by asking people to refrain from using words that refer to disability as pejoratives because they reinforce the idea that disability is categorically bad, people engaging in discussions about language are saying that disability is a bed of roses with a unicorn and a platter of cupcakes on the side. This is, as I said in a recent ‘Today in Journalism,’ so not true, and I wanted to pull that discussion out of that post, because it’s important, and it deserves its own post:

The thing about terms like ‘suffers from’ and ‘victim of’ is that if someone self identifies with them, that’s fine. But when they get used as generic terms to refer to people with disabilities in general, it sets a precedent. It tells people that disability is suffering, and that people with disabilities are victims. The reason that we ask people to use neutral language when talking about disability is not because we want to tell other people how to feel about their disabilities, but because we don’t want to tell nondisabled people to think negatively about disability.

This is an important thing, when talking about language. There’s a big difference between identifying with a term and using it, and using a term in general to refer to everyone like you, or, in the case of nondisabled people, using a term you’ve heard someone use as self identification to refer to everyone like that person. If the media presented disability in neutral terms, ‘The locals known Ray Magallan, a man with cerebral palsy who…,’ it allows readers to approach the article with neutrality. But here, from the very start, the subject of the article is a victim.

Asking people to think about the language they use generally is not about telling people that all disabilities are awesome! And terrific! And superfun! Nor is it about telling people how they should feel about their disabilities. What it’s about is working towards the neutral place: The place where disability in general is value neutral, rather than universally good or bad.

Speaking for myself and myself only, there are some things about my disabilities that I like, and that I am glad to have as part of my identity. There are other things about my disabilities that I dislike, and strongly wish would Go Away. And there are a lot of things that just are, that I don’t feel strongly about one way or the other. I don’t like society assigning values to my identities, or deciding that because I feel a particular way about a specific disability, all people who share that disability must feel like I do; I want society to view them neutrally, and that’s one of the reasons that I want to get people thinking about the language they use and how they use it.

The language isn’t the problem. It’s the underlying attitudes that are the problem. Disability is used as a shorthand for ‘bad’ because it is understood to be bad. The goal here is not to try and effect a switch, to disability as ‘good,’ but to get people to view it neutrally, and to allow individual people with disabled identities to shape their own approach to disability. To give people autonomy, and to make nondisabled people understand that when one person says ‘I hate my disabilities’ that person is speaking for ouself, just as the person who says ‘I love my disabilities’ is also speaking for ouself.

It’s also, of course, about getting people to confront the role of ableism in their lives, and to look at how it manifests, but that’s only one facet of conversations about language. People who are stuck on ‘oh, I need to just not use these words’ are missing the much larger discussion, that these words are code for attitudes and beliefs, and that when we talk about these words, we confront those beliefs. By working towards disability as neutral, we are allowing many people with disabilities self determination and autonomy, although not all people with disabilities will necessarily agree that working towards the neutral place is a shared goal, or even something that should happen at all.

Telling a person with disabilities who identifies ou personal experience as difficult, or painful, or unpleasant, or frustrating, or simply bad: ‘how can you say disability is bad!’ is every bit as policing as calling disability in general  a tragedy, because it’s denying someone’s lived experience, and it’s denying something that someone is articulating right in front of you. Someone who hates ou disabilities or who hates aspects of them isn’t ‘betraying the movement’ or ‘wrong,’ and the goal of language discussions isn’t to hound people who feel that way into changing their minds about how they feel about their bodies and brains.

It’s about creating a space for everyone, a space where people can self identify how they like, and feel the way they like, without being judged or shamed not just by society, but also by fellow people with disabilities. There is room for all identities and lines of thought in a world where disability is a neutral identity, and people are allowed to shape it and feel about it the way they want to, rather than being pressured to perform, think, and believe in a particular way for the benefit of others.

Today In Journalism: Simply Overcome

As soon as I saw the headline ‘Local overcomes disabilities‘ pop up, I knew this article would be worthy of a ‘Today In Journalism’ feature at FWD, because, folks, this article has it all. I’m not going to blame Judy Sheridan, the author, for the title, because most journalists don’t write their own headlines1; the honour for the title clearly goes to the editor of the Weatherford Democrat, a publication that I’m sure has a fine, upstanding, and meritorious history.

The ‘overcome’ narrative is a common and pervasive one and it annoys me to an extreme degree. So, based on the title alone, I would have had a brief snark, but then, right there in the lede:

The locals know Ray Magallan, a cerebral palsy victim who has walked aimlessly down city streets for years, fighting frustration, anger and utter hopelessness…

I had a brief moment of bemusement imagining cerebral palsy cornering Magallan in a dark alley and taking his lunch money, I confess.

The thing about terms like ‘suffers from’ and ‘victim of’ is that if someone self identifies with them, that’s fine. But when they get used as generic terms to refer to people with disabilities in general, it sets a precedent. It tells people that disability is suffering, and that people with disabilities are victims. The reason that we ask people to use neutral language when talking about disability is not because we want to tell other people how to feel about their disabilities, but because we don’t want to tell nondisabled people to think negatively about disability.

This is an important thing, when talking about language. There’s a big difference between identifying with a term and using it, and using a term in general to refer to everyone like you, or, in the case of nondisabled people, using a term you’ve heard someone use as self identification to refer to everyone like that person. If the media presented disability in neutral terms, ‘The locals known Ray Magallan, a man with cerebral palsy who…,’ it allows readers to approach the article with neutrality. But here, from the very start, the subject of the article is a victim.

Maybe if disability wasn’t routinely framed this way, it wouldn’t be such a frightening identity, and people who find the word upsetting or frightening would view it with more neutrality. As a facet of identity, rather than an all-consuming tragedy. In our recent discussion on ‘special,’ commenters brought up the fact that many people are afraid to use the word ‘disability,’ and children in particular are socialised to fear it, which is why disability euphemisms are so widespread. It’s easy to see why people would shy away from identifying with disability when all the narratives they see inform them that disability is a tragedy and that people with disabilities are victims.

The rest of the article hits all the keywords…’challenge,’ ‘inner strength,’ ‘students who are challenged,’ and, of course, our old friend ‘overcome.’

I like the idea of including people with disabilities in local community profiles, to remind readers that we are members of the community too, and to show people that we do things in the community, but inevitably, these stories always just leave me really angry, and really sad. They are so objectifying, and so dehumanising, and they leave readers with terrible messages about disability, disabled identities, what it means to be disabled.

It would be so very easy to write one of these profiles well. Why can’t anyone seem to do that?

  1. You do know that, right?

Ableist Word Profile: Special

  • Ableist Word Profile is an ongoing FWD/Forward series in which we explore ableism and the way it manifests in language usage.
  • Here’s what this series is about: Examining word origins, the way in which ableism is unconsciously reinforced, the power that language has.
  • Here’s what this series is not about: Telling people which words they can use to define their own experiences, rejecting reclamatory word usage, telling people which words they can and cannot use.
  • You don’t necessarily have to agree that a particular profiled word or phrase is ableist; we ask you to think about the way in which the language that we use is influenced, both historically and currently, by ableist thought.
  • Please note that this post contains ableist language used for the purpose of discussion and criticism; you can get an idea from the title of the kind of ableist language that is going to be included in the discussion, and if that type of language is upsetting or triggering for you, you may want to skip this post.

Special. Special needs. Special education. Special bus. Special treatment.

Disability euphemisms are sometimes very difficult to untangle, which is why I hesitated so long to write an Ableist Word Profile on ‘special’ even though a number of readers requested it. Euphemisms illustrate a world where good intentions and changing language norms collide, leaving some of us in an uneasy position on the sidelines. When I wrote ‘Needs Are Not Special,’ for example, some people resisted the personal opinion I laid out in the post.

And I think that resistance demonstrated some interesting conflicts in the way people think about disability as well as language. Some people find ‘special’ a safe and comfortable word, one that takes the scary disability out of the matter. Others find it patronising, cutesy, and dehumanising. Some people think it’s more friendly, making people with disabilities more approachable. Others think that it feels like an insult. Some people honestly don’t care.

Some people with disabilities really don’t like ‘special.’ Others actively identify with it and like it. And the same holds true with a lot of disability euphemisms. This makes the point about self identification above extremely important; our goal with this series in general is to think about the role of ableism in language, not to police self identification or reclamatory language use.

It is also to acknowledge and discuss the fact that the disability rights movement has been having conversations about language and disability terminology for decades, and that many nondisabled people are (perhaps willfully) unaware of these conversations. They come up with complex and tormented euphemisms to talk about disability instead of just asking a disabled person if there’s an appropriate term. Many nondisabled people are shocked that many people with disabilities, including myself, view ‘special’ as a rank insult that is horrifying to encounter. This word makes me so angry. So angry.

Thus, when I say ”special’ troubles me,’ I mean ‘please do not use this term to refer to me, because I find it personally insulting, and I have an identity, that identity is disabled, please respect my identity by using the word I self identify with to refer to me’ and I also mean ‘I would vastly prefer that you consider not using it as a default/general term, but use it for self identification if you identify with it, and to describe other people who self identify with it.’ And, in return, if I know that someone identifies as special needs or with any other term involving ‘special,’ I will refer to that person that way, because I believe that respecting self identification is a critical thing. However, I note that I don’t personally know anyone who identifies with this term; I see it being used by nondisabled friends and family, applied as a label by others and not claimed as a self identification.

I think that people, including earlier generations of disability rights activists, started using ‘special’ to talk about and frame disability from a place of kindness. With the goal of inclusion. To humanise disability and make it seem less frightening. Perhaps, even, to stress the need for accommodation. That was certainly the intent behind, for example, the Special Olympics. Yet, even as it was being used in this way, it was also being twisted and used in the opposite way, to insult people with disabilities. ‘Special’ became a double-edged sword: A respectful term for people with intellectual disabilities, for example, and an insult along the lines of ‘r#tarded.’ Accommodation, a basic human right, turned into ‘special treatment,’ a nuisance. A hassle. Something that isn’t really necessary.

Euphemisms are hard to talk about because of the dual nature of their use. Yes, all ableist language is used in many different ways, including coded ways, but euphemisms feel particularly tricky to me. Because I see them used as insults and as proud self identification. I see them used by people who are struggling to find the right words to say, and not wanting to cause offense. And, sometimes, their usage reflects cultural and political differences; English is spoken in a lot of countries and it’s used in a lot of ways, and a word or phrase that rings wrong to me is entirely polite and appropriate somewhere else, just as some people cannot stand the phrasing ‘people with disabilities’ that’s used here in the United States. When you enter translation between languages, things get even more entangled.

So, here’s what I, personally, don’t like about special: I feel like it’s an isolating word. I feel that the concept of ‘special’ stands in the way of full integration into society, and it also perpetuates some very harmful myths. It sets people with disabilities aside and stresses that they are different and alien. That using a wheelchair, for example, is ‘special’ and different and weird.

This word, to me, stresses a hierarchy of normality. And, thanks to the way that it has become twisted, it has become a singularly loaded word. Everything from ramps to quiet rooms for taking exams is considered ‘special treatment’ and sneered at. Nondisabled people think that we are pulling off some kind of giant scam here and that’s reinforced when we talk about, for example, ‘special education.’

The very idea that accommodations are ‘special’ stresses that they should not be expected. That they are a prize or treat. That you don’t deserve them. I want to see accommodations normalised. I want to see it assumed that everyone who wants to participate in something is able to do so, that no barriers are presented by other participants or the venue. I don’t want that to be ‘special.’ I want it to be ordinary.

Likewise, the idea of referring to human beings as ‘special’ is one I find troubling, not least because this term has become weaponised. I have trouble parsing whether it is being used as a celebration of identity or an insult whenever I encounter it.

What about you? Do you like or dislike ‘special’? What does this word evoke for you when you encounter it?

Damn Y’all White Wolf

My [biggest] fandom is White Wolf’s Exalted. I’ve complained about it before and I’ll complain about it again.

I build characters because it’s fun and I often spend a lot of time working at it trying to make a person rather than a collection of attributes. Right now I’m working on a character who I actually have an expectation of playing and as ever I’m borrowing much from my life and some from various other places. This person is a rabbit (specifically this rabbit) shapeshifter with a very big hammer. Ou has told me ou doesn’t speak and I try to listen to my characters when they tell me things.

Also disabled folk can damn well be heroes. They don’t have to ‘overcome’ their conditions neither. I will try to not fuck this up too badly. Transient dysphasia and aphasia are conditions I have personal experience with but not full-time.

Thing is: Because I’m making a new character I’m taking an enormous hit on experience and power — the character I’ve been playing has more than twice as many experience points as the GM is giving me for my rabbit person. Ouch. (But I’m getting to tell a new story.) So I may do something I’m not entirely comfortable with: Use the Flaw system built into the game.

See, you can get points to buy Cool Shit by taking Flaws. Some of them are okay, like being wanted by authorities or being widely known as a demon or whatever. Some of them are more problematic, like missing body parts, mental illnesses, communication and sensory impairments.

Here’s the one for not speaking:

Mute
Cost: 1 pt. or 4 pts.
Your character is unable to speak normally. For one bonus point, the character is simply unable to speak above a whisper, while complete dumbness1 grants four bonus points. A character with the one-point version automatically fails all Performance or Presence checks that require public speaking but faces no penalty on social attacks as long as his target can hear him, which requires the target’s player to succeed on a (Perception + Awareness) roll at difficulty 2.

A character with the four-point version of the Flaw automatically fails all Performance or Presence checks based on verbal communication and suffers a -5 penalty on all social attack rolls made for her unless the attack expressly has no verbal component. While there is no universal sign language in the Age of Sorrows, the character and her allies can communicate through an informal sign language if each of them commits one Linguistics slot to it.

Just kind of as an aside they tell us there are no widely-known gestural or tactile languages. None. There aren’t regional languages even. Anyone wanting to use one has to make up their own and teach it to whomever they want to communicate with. Deaf people wanting to build a community are going to have a tricky time of it in canon Exalted.

Sometimes I hate my game. I could use those four bonus points but that’s some horrible shit. But not using this mechanic isn’t going to make it disappear from the game either (there’s another player whose character made use of it — as a hot blind assassin chick). The casual disablism is not exactly unusual for gaming (and this isn’t even the worst example of disablism ((or casual bigotry)) I could pull from Exalted) where currently non-disabled developers assume a currently non-disabled audience and write accordingly. Because heroes are CND or super-crip amirite?

So yeah. I’ll probably do it. I’ll just feel icky about it. :(

Cross-posted: Aperiodically Legible.

  1. Hi there, dumb means does not speak! I have not missed you.