Disability Language in Writing

One of the things that has gotten a lot of disability advocates angry over the last several years is the way disabled people are portrayed in the media. Be it on tv, in movies, and in writing.

Last year, I read a book series I really began to love. I won’t name it, but it’s the only thing I’ve ever written a review for on Goodreads. I read all of the books (there were 6 or 7) until I got to the last one when the disabled character was revealed to be the villain and his reasoning was because he was disabled. After reading that many books in the series, I didn’t finish it and haven’t read anything from that author since.

I was livid. This book had good reviews and people seemed to accept the reasoning behind why he did what he did. All I saw was a lack of creativity on the part of the author and a hell of a lot of ableism.

Why is being disabled considered an excuse to be evil? Imagine if I used my C-PTSD as an excuse to go out and kill everyone that’s ever abused me. I’m not talking about someone who kills their abuser in the moment out of fear or anger, I’m talking about someone who shrugs and says they were mean to me because I’m different like it’s no big deal and it excuses what they’ve done. It doesn’t.

That’s not okay.

The next thing I’m going to talk about is the language used when people talk about disabled people. A lot of disabled people really do not like it when abled people write stories with disabled characters. There are a lot of reasons for this and I have to admit I’m one of those people. Mainly it’s because if you’re abled, you cannot portray a disabled person correctly. You just can’t. I’ve seen many, many writers try and you just can’t. There are a million different things that only disabled people go through you will never understand. I could explain it to you all day long and you still wouldn’t get it. Stick with things you do understand, please. Also, when an abled writes about a disabled character they’re usually touted as an expert on disability by other ableds from that point on and you’re not an expert on something you’ve never lived. By doing this you’re taking away the voices of the actually disabled community. We’ve had to fight so hard (and are still fighting so hard) to have our voices heard, even if you mean well, just don’t. You’re talking over our experiences on something you don’t understand, while being praised by other people who don’t understand, so when we try to disagree with you we’re told we’re wrong because you said something different than we did even though we were talking about our actual experiences and you were talking about the experiences you made up in your head.

STOP.

Oh yeah, and your character who’s entire personality is ‘disabled’ who suddenly overcomes something and is the hero in the end, isn’t original nor is that okay either. Disability is not a plot device. Try harder.

Don’t even get me started on movies and books like Me Before You. Abled actors should not be playing disabled characters. Period. And when they win awards for doing so? Yeah, that’s just plain insulting. In the words of Maysoon Zayid, “If a wheelchair user can’t play Beyonce, then Beyonce shouldn’t be able to play a wheelchair user.” Maysoon did a TED talk I highly recommend all ableds watch. It’s on YouTube.

Your character who’s ‘inspirational’ for ‘overcoming’ his disability and living a ‘normal’ life? That’s inspiration porn and again NOT OKAY. Why? Because disabled people don’t need to be fixed and we’re not inspirational for doing ‘normal’ things. Stella Young did an entire TED talk about this. It’s on YouTube and I highly recommend all ableds watch it.

Another reason is, abled people tend to use terms about disabled people that are quite offensive and when we ask them to correct them, they won’t.

Some of these are:

handicapped

handicapable

wheelchair-bound

ANY version of tard that doesn’t start with mus is NOT OKAY under any circumstances.

Cripple/d (crip has been claimed by a lot of disabled people to take back their power, but it is still not okay for an abled to use)

Diffable, diffability, differently-abled, etc.

Autistic is not a way to generalize mentally disabled people. It is not a slur nor it is a bad thing or an insult. Using it in any of these ways makes you an asshole.

OCD is also not a way to describe yourself if you do not actually HAVE OCD. It’s not something to make jokes about either.

Same for PTSD. PTSD is a very serious mental health condition, and trust me you don’t want it.

When you tell us to calm down, that we’re being oversensitive etc you’re talking over us and not listening to us. This has been a theme throughout my life and throughout the lives of several disabled people I know. I’ve been criticized for being angry by ableds more times than I can count. Yeah, I am angry, because I’m 35 years old and you’re still not listening. I’ve been dealing with this crap for my entire life, wouldn’t you be angry in my shoes? Stop. Just stop.

The general consensus among disabled people is to use the term DISABLED when talking about us. Yes, there are some people who do not identify this way and if someone asks you to identify them differently please respect them, but the majority do identify this way and telling them to calm down makes you an asshole.

A few more things:

Disabled is not a bad word. It literally means unable to do something.

Abled is not a slur.

Identity first language is acceptable.

Person first language was created by ableds to remind them that disabled people are in fact people, take that however you will.

And the last thing I’ll say is for fuck’s sake stop telling us to not be angry about this. Telling us to be nicer to you when all you’ve done is degrade us doesn’t make you look good.

Disabled people are tired, so tired, of repeating all of this over and over and over again to people who really don’t care. But we do it hoping one day someone will listen.

Signed,

A disabled woman who’s been a wheelchair user since she was five and is so tired of dealing with ableism.