Category Archives: language

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.”

By 21 June, 2010.    accessibility, autonomy, language, mental health, news   



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 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.

  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.

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

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.]

  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”.

Unexpectedly reassuring website of the day: WebMD

So, one day last week, I was bored and casually surfing WebMD for non-aspirin headache remedies (I didn’t have any aspirin in the house that day, and the headache was a fairly mild one — not too distracting when compared to those I usually deal with, but still distracting). Because I could not stop clicking on random links (sites like WebMD compel me to), I stumbled upon something called the “Pain Management Questionaire” and decided to complete it.

This was part of my result, on the “Chronic Pain Myths and Facts” segment of the quiz:

“Having chronic pain means that I have a lower tolerance for pain. FALSE. Too many people blame themselves for their chronic pain. They feel like it’s a sign of weakness. But chronic pain is not a moral failing, it’s a medical condition, just like diabetes or heart disease. There’s nothing shameful about it.”

“You also need to resist the urge to tough it out or ignore the pain. For acute pain, this sometimes works. Acute pain often goes away on its own with time as the body heals. But for people in chronic pain, it’s terrible advice. In fact, ignoring chronic pain can allow the problem to worsen and make it harder to control.”

“Pain that becomes chronic can change the way that the body and brain respond to pain. The changes are physiological, not psychological. Just as medication is needed regularly to keep high blood pressure under control, regular treatment usually is needed to keep high pain levels under control.”

Given the fact that too many media and cultural outlets seem to have no problem blaming people for their own health-related issues, disabilities or conditions, this struck me as a nice change. If you want to take the questionnaire, it is located at this link.

By 26 May, 2010.    happy posts, language, meta, social attitudes   



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.

For Cereal, Internet?: I Has A Hotdog edition

I love looking at pictures of cute animals on the internet. Cats, dogs, monkeys, dolphins, turtles, otters – whatever. And I find that skimming through a few LOLcat macros during the workday can do wonders to perk up my mood or give me a smile before diving back into work. Which is part of why I get so annoyed when the LOLcat sites do something offensive or wrong – this is supposed to be my fun time, not my get-my-rage-on time! I have a whole other folder of RSS feeds for rage time!

So I got mighty cranky when I saw this at I Has a Hotdog, the spinoff site from I Can Haz Cheeseburger that has LOLdog macros:

A group of identical white pomeranians, with the caption "Multiple Personality Disorder: you're doin it right."
A group of identical white pomeranians, with the caption "Multiple Personality Disorder: you're doin it right."

Ok, FOR CEREAL??? This is not only offensive, it doesn’t even make sense. A person with Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), which is more commonly and more accurately termed Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), does not manifest in multiple identical bodies. The whole point is that there is one body/mind that manifests multiple, distinct identities or personalities, called alter egos. A person who could split themselves into multiple identical bodies, all with distinct identities, is not a person with MPD or DID, but instead is some kind of magical self-cloning person who should probably be off fighting crime in Gotham City.

This underlined for me how DID is a go-to joke, a punchline often used in contexts or situations that make absolutely no sense to anyone who actually understands what DID is. It’s a lazy way to make a joke about a “bizarre” or “outlandish” mental illness without even taking time to understand the diagnosis being thrown around so cavalierly. For me, it reads as a shorthand “hahaha saying the name of a mental illness is funny isn’t that funny??”

I can’t imagine how this use of DID as shorthand for “exotic and hilarious mental illness” must affect people who actually experience DID. Given that the second google link when I searched for “multiple personality disorder” is to a site discussing whether MPD or DID actually exist or whether they are made-up movie illnesses, I imagine there’s an extraordinary stigma experienced by people with DID and an overwhelming tendency to doubt and discount their experiences at best, and to mock and ridicule them at worst. These kind of “jokes” only add to those issues. And they should not be tolerated.

Guest Post from RMJ: Ableist Word Profile: Crazy

RMJ is a twentysomething with OCD who grew up in Kansas and currently lives in Virginia. She works in education and loves cooking, cats, and television. She blogs about feminism and stuff at Deeply Problematic. RMJ’s previous guest post: Athletes with Disabilities: Arm-Wrestlers as Exceptions and Inspirations.

  • 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

Like every ism, ableism is absorbed through the culture on a more subconscious level, embedding itself in our language like a guerrilla force. Crazy is one of the most versatile and frequently used slurs, a word used sometimes directly against persons with mental disabilities (PWMD), sometimes indirectly against persons with able privilege, sometimes descriptive and value-neutral, and sometimes in a superficially positive light.

As a direct slur against PWMD:

Crazy as a word is directly and strongly tied to mental disability. It’s used as a slur directly against PWMD both to discredit and to marginalize. If a person with a history of mental illness wants to do something, for good or bad, that challenges something, that person’s thoughts, arguments, and rhetoric are dismissed because that person is “crazy”. If a PWMD is going through pain because of something unrelated to their mental state, culpability for the pain is placed solely on their being crazy. Even if their suffering is related to their disability, it is, in a catch-22, dismissed due to their “craziness”; the PWMD is expected to pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they want to be viewed as a valid human being.

Examples:
“I can’t believe Britney shaved her head. Crazy bitch.”
“Not only is Dworkin cissexist, she’s fucking crazy!”

As a way to discredit neurotypical people:

Crazy is also often used to describe a neurotypical person that the speaker disagrees with. It’s used to discredit able-privileged persons by saying that they are actually mentally disabled – and what could be worse than that?

Examples:
“Tom Cruise is fucking crazy. Seriously, he’s batshit insane about Prozac, yelling at Matt Lauer and shit.”
“Did you hear that Shirley broke up with Jim? She thought he was cheating on her.” “Yeah, she’s crazy, Jim’s a great guy.”

As an all-purpose negative adjective:

Crazy is often used – even, still, by me and other feminists – to negatively describe ideas, writing, or other nouns that the speaker finds disagreeable. Conservatives are “crazy”, acts of oppression are “crazy making” , this winter’s snow is “craziness”. This usage makes a direct connection between mental disability and bad qualities of all stripes, turning disability itself into a negative descriptor. Whether it means “bad” or “evil” or “outlandish” or “illogical” or “unthinkable”, it’s turning the condition of having a disability into an all-purpose negative descriptor. When using crazy as a synonym for violent, disturbing, or wrong, it’s saying that PWMD are violent, disturbing, wrong. It’s using disability as a rhetorical weapon.

Examples:

“They took the public option out of the health care plan? That’s fucking crazy!”
“Yeah, Loretta went crazy on Jeanie last night. Gave her a black eye and everything.”

Crazy as a positive amplifier:

On the flip side, crazy is often used as a positive amplifier. Folks say that they are “crazy” about something or someone they love or like. But just because it’s positive doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. Crazy as a positive adjective still mean “overly” or “too much”. It’s meant to admit a slight lack of foresight or sense on the part of the speaker. Furthermore, a slur is a slur is a slur, no matter the context. Crazy is mostly, and overtly, used to mean “bad”, “silly”, “not worth paying attention to”, “too much”. Persons with mental illnesses are none of these things as a group. The positive use is not that positive, and it doesn’t absolve the mountains of bad usage.

Examples:
“I’ve been crazy busy lately, sorry I haven’t been around much.”
“I’m just crazy about ice cream!”

Crazy a destructive word, used to hurt people with mental disabilities. It’s used to discredit, to marginalize, to make sure that we feel shame for our disability and discourage self-care, to make sure that those of us brave enough to publicly identify as having mental disabilities are continually discredited.

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BADD: How can I support Blogging Against Disablism Day?

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2010Today is the “beginning” of Blogging Against Disablism Day 2010. I put beginning in quotes there not just because the day is done in Australia and the West Coast of Canada is still waking up, but because Diary of a Goldfish, who hosts BADD every year, acknowledges that people with disabilities are not necessarily able to post precisely on the date of a blog swarm – that there is inherent disablism in demanding that disabled people write a post on a specific time table.

Every year since I started participating in BADD, I’ve had many people ask me how they – both as currently non-disabled people, and as people with disabilities – can best participate in BADD if they don’t want to, or can’t, write a post, put up a photo, or create a video or podcast. Here is just a short list of suggestions:

Check out the ever-growing list of BADD posts over at Diary of a Goldfish. Even “just” (there’s no just about your time/energy investment!) reading people’s posts and learning about their experiences contributes a lot to BADD. Blogswarms like this are all about raising awareness, and raising your own awareness is just as important. As well, you may find a whole new set of blogs to add to your blog-reading lists. There are so many bloggers with disabilities out there, fighting the good fight against ableism every day.

Comment on some BADD posts. I know that every time I write something and it gets no comments, I feel like I’ve put effort out for nothing. [This is not a demand for more comments for me! I’m just sayin’.] If you have the time/energy to do so, I would really encourage you to leave comments in support of BADD posts. They don’t have to be lengthy: even just “This post was great, thank you for writing it” can make a difference. If you’re up to writing more, go for it! But just leaving words of support can be a big deal.

Tell people about the awesome posts you’ve read. If you have a blog, link your favourite BADD posts so others can check them out – if not today, then over the next few days, or even weeks. Months. They’re not going anywhere, and although we all hope the prejudices against people with disabilities are going to disappear, that’s probably not going anywhere anytime soon, either. There’s nothing saying you have to only link to BADD posts this week. If you’ve got a twitter account, tweet some links to your followers! The hash-tag for BADD seems to be #badd, but I like to also tag my tweets #disability as well. (This is selfish on my part – I follow the #disability tags on twitter.)

Think about dis/ableism in your every-day life. This one is mostly for the non-disabled people, or for people like me – I always need to remind myself to think outside my box of “what disability looks like”. There are huge swaths of my workplace that someone in a wheelchair can’t get in, and I went to a university last week that claimed it was impossible to put floor announcements in their elevators. Many [not all – I’ve heard very good things about some places, like L’Arche] of the group homes in Canada for people with cognitive impairments are more like prisons than the “home-like” environment they claim to be. The websites for each of the major political parties in Canada are inaccessible to many people with disabilities, and events that are held for “all Canadians” have no captioning, no visual description, and no way for Sign users to participate.

I think BADD is a great opportunity to see just how much is out there about disability on the internet. For disabled people who may be feeling isolated, it’s a great time to see just how many people are out there that struggle with similar issues. For the non-disabled, it’s a great way to start educating yourself about disability issues.

The Blogging Against Disablism 2010 Page will update throughout the day. Here’s just a tiny selection of posts that I’ve had the chance to read, and highly recommend.

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