How To Avoid Using Ableist Language

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To kick off the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge, I’d like to talk about the important subject and task of avoiding ableist language.

Writer Parker Marie Molloy defines ableist language as “any word or phrase that intentionally or inadvertently targets an individual with a disability” in a pejorative way. We see this constantly in our culture: a subpar movie described as “lame,” an outlandish plan dismissed as “crazy.” It may not be done with conscious ill will, but the end result is still stigmatizing to people with disabilities.

If we’re mindful, choosing words is generally simple enough – see Autistic Hoya’s great list of ableist terms and their alternatives – but do bear in mind that there is some disagreement over proper or preferred usage. For instance, many advocate “person-first” language (i.e. “person with a disability,” rather than “disabled person”), but the neurodiversity movement in particular diverges from this viewpoint and tends to prefer the words “autistic” or “autistic person” (with Autistic frequently capitalized).

When in doubt, tune into the perspectives of the disability community – there is a vibrant culture and wealth of insight inside it if you just take the time to look and listen! As a writer with multiple disabilities, I invite you to another challenge. Next time you catch yourself about to say, “Wow, that traffic was insane on the freeway!” or “Man, that was a really tone-deaf statement,” take a moment to reflect and choose a more accurate, less negative phrase.

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6 thoughts on “How To Avoid Using Ableist Language

  1. While I somewhat agree with you I also think we are a society that has become overly sensitive to words. Saying the traffic is insane, for instance. Maybe we should look for ways to describe mental health in fresher terms!
    Paula from
    Smidgen, Snippets, & Bits

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    1. Thanks for weighing in, Paula. I know many people see this as an issue of sensitivity, but in my mind it’s a matter of combating the negative stereotypes these sorts of word choices evoke. We say “insane” traffic when we mean bad, frustrating, or over-the-top, because our culture stereotypically associates those characteristics with mental illness. But if we instead simply say what we mean without the loaded language — that the traffic was bad or frustrating or over the top — we’re breaking that link and taking a small but necessary step towards destigmatizing mental illness rather than playing into our cultural misperceptions of it. Word choice can seem minor, but it can also have tremendous power.

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