Welcome to Ableist Word Profile, a (probably intermittent) series in which staffers will profile various ableist words, talk about how they are used, and talk about how to stop using them. Ableism is not feminism, so it’s important to talk about how to eradicate ableist language from our vocabularies. This post is marked 101, which means that the comments section is open to 101 questions and discussion. 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.
Sasha_feather is a science fiction/fantasy fan and anti-oppression activist. She is a contributor to Access Fandom
Image: Dr. Kerry Weaver from the US television show ‘ER’, a white woman using a forearm crutch
Has anyone ever told you that you are using something as a crutch? Have you ever used this metaphor yourself as a pejorative?
What do people mean when they use this metaphor?
The metaphor implies that crutches are universally bad and that they prevent the user from moving onto the next stage of development.
There are underlying messages within this attitude that one should rely upon the self and not be using outside help or tools to deal with problems. All of this is ableist, and falls in line with similar prejudices against medications. If you cannot support yourself, well then, there must be something morally wrong with you: this is the message of our ableist society.
Crutches are assistive technology; they are tools. While it is true that tools can sometimes cause harm, tools are not essentially bad. I think most people would agree that tools are good things. Often tools such as crutches are the products of many years of innovation, design, engineering, and human ingenuity. People with disabilities often rely on tools more than fully able-bodied people do to help us navigate and live in the world. Crutches and canes are mainly useful for helping people to walk. They have other uses too. If you watch the US television show “House”, you might observe Dr. House using his cane for a variety of other creative purposes, such as a reaching device.
The metaphor of “crutch” can be reclaimed by using it as a positive metaphor. Some examples of this:
“I appreciated having creative projects to do as a crutch to help me through the grieving process.”
“I handed out fliers at a recent event. They were a good crutch for helping me go up and talk to people I don’t know.”
If you are looking for another metaphor to use for a tool that a person uses for a short time before moving onto the next stage of development, I suggest using “training wheels”.