Words hurt: unlearning ableism

An article by the title  of “The SJW Syndrome” was recently published by the MC Sun, detailing the hostility of certain “social justice warriors.” While reviewing it, a few of my fellow editors expressed confusion as to a term included in the article: ableism.

As a result, I decided that now would be as good of a time as any to inform the masses as to what ableism is and the ways people may be unwittingly enforcing it. Before I begin, however, I think it is important to make clear that I am an able bodied person.

Ableism is defined as “discrimination in favor of able bodied people,” but just like all definitions, this can come in many forms, and describes a range of disabilities, disorders, and conditions.

Ableism assumes that those with physical and mental limitations are less than human, and do not adhere to or reach the societally assigned able bodied standard.

It is vital to remember that the able bodied and minded are not the “regular” ones. Anyone whose body differs from the mold is not automatically failing, but that is hard to make clear when people with disabilities don’t seem to be a priority. Everything is geared towards those with “normal” minds and bodies, despite there being no such thing as normal.

Language can be a tool of oppression, and before you scathingly dismiss that statement, consider the diminutive terms used to belittle minorities, from blatant slurs to microaggressions. These words range from obvious to unexpected, so some may fly under your social justice radar.

The most obvious and campaigned against of ableist language would be the word “retard,” which originated in the late fifteenth century and began as a clinical term describing intellectual disabilities of varying severities, but devolved into a term used to attack those with displaying less than average intelligence.

Other ableist words are “crazy,” “insane,” “lame,” “blind,”  “moron,” “dumb,” or even something as simple as using mental illness terminology like “OCD,” “bipolar,” or “depressed” to describe something or someone that does not have these disorders.

These words are used frequently  as adjectives in sentences with innocent enough intentions, but people tend to be blindly ignorant of the impact their seemingly innocuous words have.  We are so desensitized to this language that hearing casual ableism rarely causes even the slightest of reactions.

It isn’t hard to change the way you speak, especially when it comes to easily replaceable words with less harmful adjectives. Be respectful, and remember the way your words can affect others.

Written by Amanda Leslie

Amanda is a senior and the opinions editor for the MCSun. (Obviously the best section.) Her hobbies are sleeping and listening to music. She likes to pretend that she could be an FBI agent when she grows up.

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