Thursday, January 04, 2018

The Word Along With A Few Others

There is a word I have never heard used outside the disability community. I haven't heard it used by service providers, or by parents, or by politicians outside here in the real world where I sit and type this. It's a shadow word that exists within and is used to describe a phenomenon known to every disabled person alive. It's a word that we use to telegraph to one another an understanding and a sense of community. It's gives voice to our reality.

And I've never heard it spoken.

Or used in a sentence that wasn't typed.

I've read it. I've said it myself and have experienced the uncomfortable nods of those listening. It's like using a word that asks people to believe in a phenomenon that they dismiss and excuse. The few outsiders that know the word, often suggest that it comes out of a false sense of reality which arises from disabled people playing victim.

The word?

Ableism

or

Disphobia. Another word that I particularly like.

I've heard thousands of keynote speeches at conferences about disability from non-disabled experts, and I've never heard the word.

I've been at hundreds of meetings where the issue of neighbours not wanting disabled people to live next door and I've never heard the word.

I've been at countless meetings about people with disabilities being bullied and teased and socially brutalized and I've never heard the word.

Unless I say it.

The typical response is a brief, annoyed, nod and then a let's move on to the problem of winning over the hearts and minds of others.

You know another word I never hear?

Bigots.

Neighbours who don't want neighbours, people who bully others because of who they are, people who target for exploitation others based on an aspect of their being, are all seen not as bigots but as people who need education.

I hear the word education a lot.

I hear the assumption is that people with disabilities are so damn different that it's understandable that they would be treated horribly by those untrained in recognizing human characteristics in the different. They have the ready excuse, "I'm sorry I beat that disabled dude to death, but you see, I haven't been trained."

Ableism.

Disphobia.

Bigots.

Bigotry.

Those are the words we need to use. We need to push at the boundary created by the screen in front of us. The word must leave the tips of the fingers used to type them and enter into our vocabulary of spoken words. We need to write letters, makes statements that call out ableism. We need to chastize new reports that cover crimes and abuse of people with disabilities when they don't recognize what they are covering, when the don't use the vocabulary of our oppression.

I want to hear that word and those words used this year.

In a news report.

Spoken out loud.

I want the experience that we have as disabled people to enter into the vocabulary of those who are paid to support us, those that are paid to report the news, those that document our lives, those that stand at the podium and speak about our lives.

I know that we all use it.

I know that we all say it.

But it's time to get the word, and those words, out of our circle and into active circulation.

 Together we can do this.

4 comments:

clairesmum said...

when I saw the word, I thought "no, I have heard that word before" and then realized it was from YOU at a presentation you gave a few years ago.
As your little cards say "Words hurt"
Words like ableism and disphobia and bigotry hurt - and grow out of the hateful, hurtful acts of those with mean spirits and nasty words. The truth hurts those who hear it...and you are right, everyone needs to heart these word, out loud, this year
I'll start looking for the opportunities that arise in my daily life....

tragicsandwich said...

I don't know if I've used "ableism" in conversation, but I know I've said "ableist," and I've had to explain it to people.

I've keeping "bigot" in my pocket for now, but it has its applications, absolutely. Sadly, some of those applications are in my own family. Even more sadly, that's not rare.

Shannon said...

I only hear (or rather see) the word in writing by people with disabilities.

Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

Agreed, the word "ableism" needs to go mainstream. The question is, HOW?

I suggest one first step would be to spread the word to other human rights advocates, particularly those who purport to be advocates for all human rights for all marginalized populations. Disability rights advocates could talk with them about what the word means and why it is important for them to start using the word in their websites, newsletters, press releases, etc. When they talk about racism, sexism, etc., they should also include the word "ableism" in the list.

Another would be to talk with immediate family and friends--maybe not all of them, but at least the ones we are close to who seem to "get" ableism--and convince them to start using the word also, not only when they're talking with us but also when they're talking with other people who may need the term to be explained to them.