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.

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.

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.

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

Recommended Reading for June 21, 2010

A man in a hand-pedaled wheelchair holds hands with a standing woman below a signpost saying "John O'Groats"
A man in a hand-pedaled wheelchair holds hands with a standing woman below a signpost saying "John O'Groats"

Brine and Kath traveled from Land’s End, England, at the very southern tip of the UK, to John O’Groats, at the very northern tip of Scotland, the two settlements in Britain that are furthest apart, by hand-pedaled wheelchair and bike, arriving in John O’Groats on the summer solstice.

A Voice For Neli [this site is by the mother of a young black man with autism who was recently arrested and harassed in Stafford, Virginia, primarily due to his race and disability status]

My son was traumatized.  He has since been transferred to a mental hospital to receive treatment.  I have placed a link to the story below for the world to see.  How very sensational and yet sinister at the same time.  What is so suspicious about a young man sitting under a tree at the library.  The library is where my son goes quite frequently because there is a teen room there.  What made him suspicious?  Was it because he is a young black male?  Possible gun?  Why was the assumption made that he had a gun when there was no visible gun seen? Again was it because he was a young black man?  These assumptions are what catapulted the events of that day and has turned our family’s life completely upside down.

Bad Cripple – Conjoined Twins, Disability and Ethics

Few books I read cause me to radically alter my preconceived ideas or thoughts. One such book that did this for me was One of Us by Alice Domurat Dreger. Dreger’s book, subtitled Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal, stunned me. Prior to reading One of Us I thought that the effort to separate conjoined twins was logical, the only viable choice parents had even if the mortality rate for such a procedure was very high. By the time I finished reading Dreger’s book I learned that my preconceived ideas about conjoined twins, largely gleaned from the mass media, was wrong. Not only did I feel enlightened thanks to Dreger but I learned much about what she termed anatomical politics.

Astrid’s Journal – On Disability and Suffering

Disability is not a tragedy. Both of these framings assume that. Someone can be suffering and have a disability, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the person is suffering because of the disability. (Correlation is not causation!) This immediately reminded me of the first time I fought this terminology, back in 2007. My support worker wrote into my care plan that I suffer from an autism spectrum disorder. I asked her to correct it to say that I have an ASD, which she at first refused. We got into a pretty lengthy argument, in which she used all kinds of ableist misconceptions about the suffering of people with autism, until she gave in and changed the wording. Most of these misconceptions are rooted in the medical model of disability. That is, they assume disability to be an inherently bad affliction, and of course from there conclude that disability is something someone suffers from. Here are a few examples of arguments people use to base the idea that one suffers from a disability, upon…

After Gadget – Lyme Awareness Month, Part I

The next three After Gadget blogs will specifically address Lyme awareness from the service dog perspective:

  • How Lyme can affect your dog, and what you need to know about it (that your vet might not).
  • How Lyme can affect you, and what you need to know about it (that your doctor might not).
  • How Lyme transformed my experience specifically as a service dog partner.

Note: Since this blog series focuses on awareness, I’m honing in on the issues that I think are most important for you to be aware of. My goal is to prevent more cases of Lyme — especially chronic or untreated Lyme — in dogs and people. So, I’m going to skip a lot of general information. For example, telling you the name of the strange organism that causes this disease will probably not be what impels you to rethink the limp that comes and goes in your dog, or that frustrating “flakiness” of your sister-in-law. It won’t change your mind about whether you are taking adequate precautions against tick-borne disease (TBD). On the other hand, I hope this series will.

Leaving Evidence – Creating Collective Access

What is collective access?  Collective Access is access that we intentionally create together, instead of individually. Most of the time, access is placed on the individual who needs it.  It is up to you to figure out your own access, or sometimes, up to you and your care giver, personal attendant (PA) or random friend.  Access is rarely weaved into a collective commitment and way of being; it is isolated and relegated to an after thought (much like disabled people). Access is complex.  it is more than just having a ramp or getting disabled folks/crips into the meeting.  Access is a constant process that doesn’t stop.  It is hard and even when you have help, it can be impossible to figure out alone.

USA Today [so take it with a grain of salt!] – World Cup matches may boost your mental health

Scientists have shown that fans who feel personally invested in a team or, better yet, who attend games and cheer along with like-minded fans, reap the mental health benefits that come from a feeling of social connectedness. “The main thing that people achieve via sports fanship is a sense of belongingness, or connectedness, with others,” said Edward Hirt, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University. “Sharing a common allegiance with others bonds people together in a special way. We can relate to others who share fanship with our team and feel a camaraderie with them that transcends ourselves.”

I Bet It’s Exactly Like That!

[Trigger Warning for descriptions of violent thoughts of self harm]

Oh, by now, faithful readers, you know where we are about to go. We are about to go on a little journey into my mind, the scary place that it is, where I open the floor to discussion about the ways that, once again! Stars and Stripes has managed to get so much so wrong. Because tonight, gentle readers, as I clutch the place that might be close to where my duodendum is and sip my Korean Red Ginsing tea, which the lady at the market told me might help my indigestion, I am reminded once again that I am my mental health are nothing but a metaphor to be co-opted at someone’s convenience!

Let me give you a little background here, because the only online version I can scrape up is this e-version of the print edition, and while WAVE found no accessibility issues with it, I am not going to guarantee that it will be accessible to everyone or accommodating of everyone’s needs. It is, however, a way around their habit of not putting all of their content in their online version (and also allows deployed troops to access the daily paper as well). The front page has the story’s picture, of a white male soldier in Army Green uniform: a light green collared shirt, black tie, green jacket with various awards and pins, a black belt, a black beret, holding a rifle with a bayonet affixed to it. The text on the photo says “Model soldiers [break] Every detail counts when you’re trying to join the storied Old Guard”. The actual article starts on page 4 if you are so inclined to read.

The Old Guard is a ceremonial guard that headquartered out of Fort Meyer, VA, and performs most of its duties in Arlington National Cemetary, similar to the Navy’s Ceremonial Guard, in that they perform many military funerals daily with the cleanest of precision. Their military bearing is expected to be above and beyond that of any other in their branch of service. Their uniforms are expected to be ridiculously perfect, with exquisite attention to the finest aspects of the details, not missing a single loose thread or even a speck of lint. A scuff on your shoe could set you back a week in training. They stand grueling hours at “attention” (The Navy’s Ceremonial Guard does this while holding the business end of the rifle and keeping the butt parallel to the ground for hours, I do not know about the Army’s Old Guard. Full disclosure: I once and briefly dated a guy from the Ceremonial Guard). Everything you know about military bearing is wrong when you arrive for duty, and it is re-taught to “look better”, including the way you turn, march, stand, dress, and press your uniforms (you are even issued special dress white uniforms that are made to withstand the repeated ironing in the Navy Ceremonial Guard).

Do you see what I did there?

I was able to give you some brief background on the very strict regulations of the Old Guard and the Ceremonial Guard without using ableist language. I didn’t once have to compare soldiers or sailors who are required to iron their uniforms exactly right, or who are trained to notice when their medals are one sixteenth of an inch off from the proper dress line to someone who actually obsesses over things like drinking bleach or shoving cork screws in her eyes. Or what it would feel like to jump from a fifth floor balcony.

Because these, my gentle readers, are actual obsessions. They actually intrude on your thoughts and disturb your life, and are really very upsetting, I can assure you. They make you do things, like pull out your hair, burn yourself with a curling iron, wash your hands again and again, and pick at the little imperfections on your skin. Yes sometimes you even iron your uniform again and again and again because you just can’t get it right and double creases are the End of The Universe as We Know It, but it might be because you are certain that if you stop then you are going to iron your hand, not because your Leading Petty Officer is going to chew you out (or your whole division, I mean, does the article expect me to believe that the entire Old Guard has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? Because that is not on the application!) but maybe because you recently thought that you might do something very harmful to someone you loved if you stopped holding that iron very tightly. Even if your LPO has put the fear of Cthulhu in you.

Being part of an elite military unit who is honored to be charged with memorializing the fallen and handing flags to their loved ones* or escorting the President or guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a pretty powerful thing, I am sure. The end result of the intense training, of the weeks and weeks of repeated inspections and physical demands, might very well leave some people with OC tendencies or maybe even OCD outright I suppose — I am not a doctor I don’t know and I don’t pretend to know every experience — but it isn’t the same as living with a condition that sometimes (OK, often) inhibits your day to day ability to live, interact, and (here’s the important one) do your job because you are busy carrying out compulsions to get the damned obsessions out of your head.

Yeah, getting worked up over a uniform inspection? I bet it’s exactly like that!

Only, I’ve been there and done that and bought the cheap t-shirt (hell, I’ve been the OC girl who has had to prepare for uniform inspections!).

It isn’t anything like that at all.

*I want to also point out that the article, for those of you who aren’t able/don’t want to read it via the e-reader the requirements for Old Guard: Must be 5’10 or taller, must have combat experience, blah blabbitty blah. Nothing like another exclusionary Old Boys Club for the military, so they can sit around and pat each other on the backs about how Awesome! they all are. I might note, out of some Branch Pride that the Navy Ceremonial Guard frequently wins the Joint Service competitions and they have *gasp* women in their guard.

Oh, and those people receiving flags? Always widows. Always. Way to erase anyone else who might be a surviving loved one of a fallen troop, there S&S, Army, and anyone else involve. UGH!

Ableist Word Profile: Crazy (to describe political viewpoints or positions)

  • 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 which 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.

We just ran an ableist word profile on the word “crazy,” written by the lovely guest poster RMJ, who discussed how the term is used in a variety of contexts and situations. This follow up is sparked by what I’ve seen as a recent resurgence here in the United States in use of the term in a political context, to describe or characterize an individual with a particular set of political views. Every time I see it, it grates on me, and I thought it was worth a focused discussion here at FWD.

Before I begin, I should make clear that I personally identify as “crazy” sometimes. Not always, but when the depression gets overwhelming and I can tell my thoughts are getting tangled, or especially when I’m in the grips of a manic episode. (More accurately, I identify as a “crazy bitch,” but that’s neither here nor there.) I’ve also been consistently described by others as “crazy,” in contexts ranging from affectionate to outright hostile and dismissive. So when I see this term tossed around in the media, it feels personal to me.

And it’s been tossed around a whole lot lately, largely by traditionally liberal or progressive media outlets. I first started seeing it show up at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall’s blog that combines “breaking news, investigative reporting and smart analysis.” Marshall doesn’t mention it on the site, but it also contains a big heaping spoonful of ableism with that political analysis. Here are some recent examples:

This is just a sampling of the posts with headlines including the term “crazy” and is not at all comprehensive. Even within this sample, we can see that the term is used to describe viewpoints with which TPM does not agree (like revising history textbooks or arguing, like Gaffney, that the Pentagon logo indicates a secret plan to subject the United States to Shariah law) and thinks are biased, bigoted, racist, or otherwise offensive (such as the protests about Obama speaking to schoolchildren or the racial laws in Arizona).  None of the posts, though, engage or critique those viewpoints or speakers in a substantive way – simply describing them as “crazy” is seen as self-evident and no further discussion is needed to demonstrate these views or people should be excluded from reasonable political discussion.

There’s been an even more recent explosion of use of the term to describe Rand Paul and Paul’s views, after he won a Republican congressional primary in Kentucky.[1. An earlier version of this post had stated, in error, that Dr Paul won the Republican congressional primary in Virginia. Thanks, Katie, for the catch.] Paul favors the free market and freedom of private business, to the extent that he seems to believe that anti-discrimination laws are an unreasonable restriction on businesses. Now I am no fan of Mr. Paul – and wrote about my problems with him previously on FWD – but that doesn’t mean I approve of political cartoons like this:

A political cartoon portrays Rand Paul as the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland. Added to the original Tenniel illustration are a 'Don't Tread on Me' flag, a Rand Paul button, and an I Heart BP button.
A political cartoon portrays Rand Paul as the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland. Added to the original Tenniel illustration are a 'Don't Tread on Me' flag, a Rand Paul button, and an I Heart BP button.

To my mind, characterizing Rand as “mad” or “crazy” and not saying anything further is a lazy way to dismiss him and his ideology without actually having to engage with it. There is a lot to say about Rand’s ideas: how prioritizing private business over human rights preserves existing institutional structures that will continue to perpetuate racism, sexism, ableism, and other oppression if not checked by a larger force like the government; how the line between private and public realms is a lot fuzzier and less distinct than Paul implies it to be; that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and BP’s seemingly inadequate safety protections and near complete inability to effectively respond are strong indications that business will prioritize profits over public goods like environmental safety; how an attitude of business before anything else will influence Rand’s views on everything from the minimum wage to immigration policy to climate control to internet neutrality. Those are all important discussions to have, discussions where we can’t assume that everyone in the audience will come down on the same side, but calling him “crazy” or “mad” and leaving it at that elides all of those complicated issues. Even more strongly, it implies that those discussions are not even worth having because it is so evident that the views or person being dismissed are wrong and absurd and laughable.

In Newsweek, Conor Friesdorf made an interesting observation about the policies and people who are dismissed as “crazy”:

Forced to name the “craziest” policy favored by American politicians, I’d say the multibillion-dollar war on drugs, which no one thinks is winnable. Asked about the most “extreme,” I’d cite the invasion of Iraq, a war of choice that has cost many billions of dollars and countless innocent lives. The “kookiest” policy is arguably farm subsidies for corn, sugar, and tobacco—products that people ought to consume less, not more.

These are contentious judgments. I hardly expect the news media to denigrate the policies I’ve named, nor do I expect their Republican and Democratic supporters to be labeled crazy, kooky, or extreme. These disparaging descriptors are never applied to America’s policy establishment, even when it is proved ruinously wrong, whereas politicians who don’t fit the mainstream Democratic or Republican mode, such as libertarians, are mocked almost reflexively in these terms, if they are covered at all.

What I conclude from that is that the media doesn’t consistently use “crazy” and other ableist terms to refer to absurd policies or those that lack rational support, but instead reserves those terms for people outside of mainstream politics. Which in turn implies that the term is used primarily to further marginalize and dismiss people who don’t fit expectations of what a politician is or what are common or popular political arguments. To me, this is even more evidence that the implicit subtext of terming a person or policy “crazy” is “shut up and go away, or start blending in better.” Which, again, is exactly the message leveled at people with mental illness when they’re called “crazy” or “loony” or “unhinged” or any number of synonyms.

This selective usage is even more reason the term “crazy” shouldn’t be used in the political context – partly because it’s a lazy out for commentators who refuse to engage with the actual policy issues or political ideas being proposed on a substantive level, and partly because it fiercely underlines and reinforces marginalization and dismissal of people with mental illness. It reminds me that when people call me “crazy,” what they really mean is “stop existing in my consciousness – either disappear or become normal.” To see progressive writers and organizations rely on the marginalization of people with mental illness to score easy points against unpopular politicians is upsetting not only because of their perpetuation of ableism, but also because it puts me in the extremely uncomfortable position of defending people like Palin and Paul against this kind of criticism.

It’s Always More Complicated: The “Justified” Abortion

[Trigger warning for “disabled child = burden” narrative.]

Last night I was reading several pro-choice tumblrs, one of which had linked to “The Choice“.

What makes us human? When is a life worth living? Worth ending? How much suffering is bearable? Is avoiding suffering brave or is it cowardice? When is abortion justified?

Should Fred be born, my wife would never return to work. My daughters would always come second. Some basic research online and asking friends in health roles showed a high chance of divorce before my son was a teenager, the stress of care literally tearing our family apart. Every news article we read showed little or no government support, with charities closing their doors. The doctors were encouraging about support; the real life carers we spoke to, not so much.

I’d never support killing a born child on any grounds. Yet here I was, suggesting death for a child almost born. I may not be a good man, but I’m a husband and a father. Had we not known, I’d be living with Fred’s condition today; but we take the tests so we can act on the information received.

So, let a bad man say the words that will condemn me: Fred’s life would have been less than human. It would have been filled with love, yes, but mostly loneliness, confusion, pain and frustration. The risk to my marriage and the welfare of my daughters was too much. I chose to minimise suffering. For my wife, for my daughters, for myself and most of all for Fred, I chose abortion. It was a choice of love.

I have complex reactions to this that are not really easy to talk about, but the one thing I do want to make clear:

Abortions do not need to be justified.

I know there are strong political and advocacy reasons why stories like these – the so-called “justified” abortion – are told whenever people talk about abortion and the law. They are “good” abortion stories, with the happy family, the desperately wanted child, the “horrors” for everyone had the abortion not been performed.

I struggle with these sorts of stories because I don’t know a way to talk about them. I want to talk about the way that disability is discussed in them – always, always, as horrible, as tearing families apart. And yet, these are people’s lives. I don’t think in any way they made a “wrong” or “bad” choice, or a “brave” one, either. They made the “right” choice, in that it was the “right” choice for their family, and I fear that talking about the language used is abusive. You’ve shared your painful story, your very personal story, and I want to now talk about disability and how it’s used to score points in the so-called abortion debate.

And yet, I desperately do.

I deeply resent the way anti-choice advocates point at people with disabilities and talk about how they’ll all be eliminated if we allow abortion-on-demand. The sheer amount of hate directed at Don when he goes to pro-choice rallies by the anti-choice contingent, because they see him as a traitor to their cause, is amazing to me.[1. Of course, they direct more at any pregnant pro-choice women – there’s a video clip from Toronto last year with someone telling a pregnant woman “I hope your child kills you”.]

I don’t see these same people at protests and demonstrations about making Halifax an accessible city. I don’t see them at demonstrations about improving health care options. I don’t see them doing anything for people with disabilities except using them as pawns, and I loathe them for it.

And yet, many pro-choice advocates also use people with disabilities as pawns in these so-called debates. They hold up stories of fetal abnormalities as “justified abortion”, as the acceptable test-case, the one they know the general public is likely to agree with. I see no analysis, no discussion, of the ableist nature of this narrative. It’s an acceptable justified abortion because the fetus was abnormal, and who wants a broken child that’s going to ruin everyone’s life?

All abortions are justified.

It troubles me so much that it’s only the “abnormal” fetuses that are okay to use as abortion stories.

[Originally published on my tumblr]

[Note: Things we are not going to do in this thread: Debate whether or not abortion is “okay”. Publish shaming comments towards women who have abortions. Talk about people with disabilities as burdens. Discuss individual actions as though they occur in a complete vacuum and are not influenced by societal attitudes and pressures.]

AWP: Why writing about Language Isn’t Enough

A cookie.  In icing it reads Meets Minimum Standards of Decent Human
Description: A cookie. In icing it reads Meets Minimum Standards of Decent Human. By sajbrfems, used under a Creative Commons License.

This is Part 2 of a 2-part series about Ableism & Language. Part 1: Why I Write About Ableist Language.

In social justice blogging circles, especially feminist-focused ones, it’s not unusual to have conversations about language, and why language matters. Those conversations can vary from explaining why it’s problematic to call women & girls “females”, why using “he” and “mankind” to be a generic non-gendered term is sexist, reclaiming – or not – of words like “bitch”, and what it means to refer to “undocumented immigrants” rather than “illegals”.

These conversations often focus on how sexist or racist language is a symptom of a problem that needs to be addressed. We can talk about how calling women bitches is a sign of sexism, or referring to people as “illegals” is dehumanizing to immigrants. And yet, when trying to have discussions about ableist language, we’re back to the silo of disability. Instead of talking about ableist language as part of the manifestation of the disdain and abuse of people with disabilities, it’s treated as isolated – the problem, instead of a symptom of the problem.

Ableism is not simply a language problem.

Ableism manifests in the social justice blogosphere in so many different ways. They can vary from just not thinking about disability at all when writing about social justice issues to shrugging off critiques from disability-focused bloggers as being “too sensitive”. It can be ignoring posts about disability-focused issues or only linking to non-disabled people writing about disability-issues instead of to disabled bloggers. It can be as apparent as declining to acknowledge disability exists to as “subtle” (to some) as declining to make your blog template accessible to screen readers.

There are also choices that social justice bloggers make about how we educate ourselves, and whose voices we highlight, who we approach about their writing, and who we ask to be mediators. If we’re not reading disability-focused blogs, then we’re not learning about disability-focused issues – and, in turn, we’re not highlighting those voices, bringing attention to those issues, or thinking about that analysis when writing our own posts.

Thirdly, ableism manifests in whose voices we trust. For all that I’m very happy to provide people with book lists, I’m a bit suspicious of people who decline lists of disability-focused bloggers they could be reading as well. Why does someone’s voice have to go through the publishing-sphere (and usually through academia for the books you’re going to get from me) before it counts as worth-reading?

I get why people talk about language, and I agree that language is important. But I’m not giving cookies out for publicly declaring your ally-status by saying you won’t (or will try not to) use ableist language anymore. That’s a great first step. Now move on.

[Thank you to s.e. smith for helping me clarify my ideas.]

Ableist Word Profile: Why I write about ableist language

  • 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 which 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

This is Part 1 of a two-part series on Ableist Language Discussions in the Blogosphere.

There’s a lot of chatter that goes on ’round the Social Justice Blogosphere about Ableist Language: what is it? what do you mean? those words don’t mean that! how can you say that? what does that mean? why are you bringing this up? don’t you have more important things to talk about? Intentions intentions intentions! It makes my head hurt.

I talk about ableist language for a variety of reasons. The most obvious, I think, is to challenge ableist ideas that center the experiences of non-disabled people. When someone proudly assures me that words like “lame” and “dumb” and “r#tarded” are never used to describe actual people with disabilities, I’m fairly certain I’m talking to one of the currently non-disabled. Currently non-disabled readers, I’m here to tell you: those words, and any similar words you think are “archaic” and not used anymore, are used all the time, as taunts and insults towards people with disabilities, and in some cases as official diagnoses. Some of them are also used in reclamatory ways by some disabled people, but certainly not all.

But it’s more than that. Part of why I challenge ableist ideas and ableist language is because I would like more Social Justice bloggers to think “Oh, yeah. People with disabilities also read social justice blogs! I should remember that more often when I’m writing.” [I also like to challenge it in other places, which is why I occasionally go through spaces like Wikipedia & TVTropes and re-write every instance of “wheelchair bound“.]

There’s a strong tendency to assume that disability-related issues are somehow a separate thing, as though there’s a Disability Silo and things like reproductive justice, racism, heterosexism, anti-immigration, transphobia, classism, and misogyny, etc, don’t actually enter into that silo. As though no one with a disability is interested in reading about these topics, or is affected by them in any way, or is an activist on the topic, or wants to be more of one.

When someone writes something like “Wow, those anti-immigrant people are r#tarded idiots!” [I made this example up] or giggles about seeing Dick Cheney “wheelchair bound” because “it couldn’t happen to a more deserving person!” [I did not make this example up], I bring up the ableism, and my activity in the disability rights movement, as a way of reminding them that we’re here. We’re reading. We’re participating. And it’s more than a little-bit alienating to see social justice bloggers using our experiences and oppressions as their go-to for “insulting people we don’t agree with”.

But at the same time, I don’t think talking about ableist language – no matter how well-intended – is enough. It’s a step. But that’s all it is.

I will write more about that tomorrow.