Why Ableist Language is Harmful
Start writing a post
Politics and Activism

Why Ableist Language is Harmful

Don't call me a cripple

Why Ableist Language is Harmful

As a little girl, I was taught that sticks and stones will break our bones, but words will never hurt me. But the older I get, the more I understand that that statement isn't true. The language we use in our day-to-day life and in our writing is a powerful convoy for expressing our thoughts, opinions, and emotions. Language allows us to describe ourselves and others too. Lastly, it's a telling reflection of existing societal values and influential to developing attitudes and beliefs. While language can lift people up, it can also bring others down in the form of hate speech.

By now, many people recognize how harmful the words f*aggot, c*nt, and the n-word can be. However, most of the time, people say words that they don't know are inappropriate to use. When used flippantly, words like "crazy," "bipolar," "OCD," "crippled," "lame," "dumb," "spaz," "psycho," and "ret**ded" perpetuate harmful stereotypes about people with physical and mental disabilities. They fuel the fire of stigma that runs rampant in our everyday conversation, the articles we read on social media, movies, books, and so much more.

For example, my short fiction professor recently held a discussion about the writing and editing process. He said that it can be hard to write first and edit later, but it's still a habit that writers should try to get into. He then went on to compare writing and editing to bipolar disorder, where writing is the mania and editing is the depression. A couple of my classmates laughed at his "joke," but I had to literally restrain myself from packing up my stuff and leaving.

Now, I don't have bipolar or any other mood disorder. But I do know that banging out a full article in an hour and then cutting stuff out is nothing like mania and depression. It's not simply swinging back and forth between two things, or being sad one moment and inspired the next. Bipolar disorder involves extreme changes in mood that occurs for weeks on end. It can destroy people's lives.

You could argue that this professor didn't know that anyone in his class had bipolar disorder. If it's not obvious, then it's okay, right?

Though some people with mental disabilities can pass as neurotypical (i.e. yours truly), it's still not okay to joke about a condition that affects someone's well-being. No matter how well you know someone, it's nearly impossible to know what they're really going through. And when you use such words without understanding what they mean, you are perpetuating negative and disempowering stereotypes.

The same goes for people with physical disabilities. I'm surprised people think it's okay to use physical disabilities as pejorative metaphors, such as: "The economy has been crippled by debt." Or accusing someone of being blind when they don't agree with you. (I'm looking at you, online debaters.) Or if someone with a physical disability leaves the house, then they must be so "brave" and "inspirational," when in actuality, they're just shopping for groceries.

Using ableist language not only perpetuates harmful stereotypes but dehumanizes and silences us as well. It contributes to bigotry, job discrimination, and even outright violence. We are more than blind eyes, deaf ears, paralyzed limbs, and impaired minds. We're just as human as you. Our society needs to shine the spotlight on disability rights so that we too have a place in the resistance and beyond. It starts with erasing ableist words from our vocabulary.

For a full list of ableist words and viable alternatives, click here.

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
Olivia White

"The American flag does not fly because the wind moves it. It flies from the last breath of each solider who died protecting it."

Keep Reading... Show less

Separation Anxiety in Pets

Separation anxiety in pets is a real thing and recognizing the warning signs is important.


Since March, Covid-19 required most of the world to quarantine in their homes. Majority of people ended up working from home for nearly five months. This meant pet owners were constantly with their pets giving them attention, playing with them, letting them out etc. Therefore, when the world slowly started to open up again and pet owners began returning to normal life work schedules away from the home, pet owners noticed a difference in the way their pet acted. Many pets develop separation anxiety especially during this crazy time when majority people were stuck inside barely leaving the house.

Keep Reading... Show less
Robert Bye on Unsplash

I live by New York City and I am so excited for all of the summer adventures.

Keep Reading... Show less

The invention of photography

The history of photography is the recount of inventions, scientific discoveries and technical improvements that allowed human beings to capture an image on a photosensitive surface for the first time, using light and certain chemical elements that react with it.


The history of photography is the recount of inventions, scientific discoveries and technical improvements that allowed human beings to capture an image on a photosensitive surface for the first time, using light and certain chemical elements that react with it.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

Exposing Kids To Nature Is The Best Way To Get Their Creative Juices Flowing

Constantly introducing young children to the magical works of nature will further increase the willingness to engage in playful activities as well as broaden their interactions with their peers


Whenever you are feeling low and anxious, just simply GO OUTSIDE and embrace nature! According to a new research study published in Frontiers in Psychology, being connected to nature and physically touching animals and flowers enable children to be happier and altruistic in nature. Not only does nature exert a bountiful force on adults, but it also serves as a therapeutic antidote to children, especially during their developmental years.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

5 Simple Ways To Give Yourself Grace, Especially When Life Gets Hard

Grace begins with a simple awareness of who we are and who we are becoming.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

If there's one thing I'm absolutely terrible at, it's giving myself grace. I'm easily my own worst critic in almost everything that I do. I'm a raging perfectionist, and I have unrealistic expectations for myself at times. I can remember simple errors I made years ago, and I still hold on to them. The biggest thing I'm trying to work on is giving myself grace. I've realized that when I don't give myself grace, I miss out on being human. Even more so, I've realized that in order to give grace to others, I need to learn how to give grace to myself, too. So often, we let perfection dominate our lives without even realizing it. I've decided to change that in my own life, and I hope you'll consider doing that, too. Grace begins with a simple awareness of who we are and who we're becoming. As you read through these five affirmations and ways to give yourself grace, I hope you'll take them in. Read them. Write them down. Think about them. Most of all, I hope you'll use them to encourage yourself and realize that you are never alone and you always have the power to change your story.

Keep Reading... Show less

Breaking Down The Beginning, Middle, And End of Netflix's Newest 'To All The Boys' Movie

Noah Centineo and Lana Condor are back with the third and final installment of the "To All The Boys I've Loved Before" series


Were all teenagers and twenty-somethings bingeing the latest "To All The Boys: Always and Forever" last night with all of their friends on their basement TV? Nope? Just me? Oh, how I doubt that.

I have been excited for this movie ever since I saw the NYC skyline in the trailer that was released earlier this year. I'm a sucker for any movie or TV show that takes place in the Big Apple.

Keep Reading... Show less

4 Ways To Own Your Story, Because Every Bit Of It Is Worth Celebrating

I hope that you don't let your current chapter stop you from pursuing the rest of your story.

Photo by Manny Moreno on Unsplash

Every single one of us has a story.

I don't say that to be cliché. I don't say that to give you a false sense of encouragement. I say that to be honest. I say that to be real.

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments