Less Well-Known Ableist Language

Content/trigger warning: ableist language (which you might have guessed :P), cursing

First of all, I want to discuss ableist language that isn’t widely acknowledged as ableist in this entry because I see a lot of people who are attempting to be good allies to the Disabled community or are even Disabled themselves using some of these. I also want to reiterate something that many Disabled activists have said: ableism is not a list of words. It is a violent system of oppression that privileges abled people over Disabled people and harms or even kills Disabled people. Ableist language is commonly discussed in part because it is so pervasive and in part because it is representative of the fact that Disabled people are devalued and dehumanized, so while it isn’t the be-all end-all of ableism, I think it still bears discussing. Examining one’s language can also be an effective way to identify unconscious biases.

I also want to say that not all of these are considered slurs. Some are ableist in the way that saying that all women have vaginas is transmisogynist, but does not involve any slurs. But some of these are slurs, so ye hath been warned. If ableist language is one of your triggers or you find it really upsetting, you may want to skip this one.

So with that out of the way, here we go; a (probably not comprehensive) list of lesser-known ableist language:

 

Autistic screeching/any use of autism as an insult: Please, for the love of stim toys, don’t do this. It’s incredibly ableist against Autistic people.

Blind to/Turn a blind eye to/Blinded by: Any metaphor (or whatever literary device you’re using) that describes disability as negative is ableist. These expressions are, specifically, vidist (vidism is oppression of blind people). “Ignorant” can be a good substitute.

Confined to a wheelchair: Wheelchairs help people be more mobile, not less, so wheelchairs are the opposite of confining. Instead, say “wheelchair user”.

Cr*zy (also ins*ne, m*d): I would think these would be pretty self-explanatory, but apparently they’re not. Don’t use slurs against mental illness. “Outrageous” or “ridiculous” are good alternatives. (Note: these words are often reclaimed.)

Cr*pple: It seems like many people actually do know that this is ableist, but it is ableist against physically Disabled people, and I’m putting this on the lesser-known list because so many able-bodied mentally ill people use “cr*ppling” to describe their mental illness. FUCKING DON’T DO THAT.

Delusional: Often leveled at people who are being illogical (so just say “illogical”), this one is ableist toward mentally ill people who experience delusions.

D*rp/herp-d*rp: Offensive to ID/DD people. Its origins on South Park were surprisingly not terribly shitty, but it has been coopted by shitty people to disparagingly refer to ID/DD people. Whoops.

Differently abled/diffabled: Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh I fucking hate this one. It’s so condescending in addition to representing a flagrantly inaccurate understanding of disability. (More on that when I write about models of disability.) “Disabled” is not a bad word. Just say it. Please.

D*mb/D*mbass: This one insults intelligence, and saying that low intelligence is inherently bad is ableist against intellectually Disabled people. Hell, the whole damn concept of intelligence is ableist, and don’t get me started on how many –isms are involved in IQ tests. Actually, get me started on that some other time. There will be an entry on it. Avoid insulting intelligence, okay? Oh, and this one also is ableist against non-speaking Disabled people because of its history of use to mean non-speaking.

Ermahgerd: This one is offensive to Disabled people whose disabilities affect their speech. Yes. Really. I only learned that fairly recently myself.

Fall on deaf ears/tone-deaf: This one is audist, or discriminatory against D/deaf people. Like I said before, don’t use literary devices that present disability as inherently bad.

Fuckt*rd/libt*rd: If you’re reading this, you probably know that r****d is one of the worst ableist slurs. Derivatives of the r-slur are also ableist slurs.

H*ndic*p: The “hand-to-cap” story is reportedly not true, but this one is still a slur. I’ve heard some older Disabled people use it, but…internalized ableism is hard as hell to shake. As with many others on this list, just say Disabled instead.

Hearing impaired: Many D/deaf and hard-of-hearing people don’t like this one. Say D/deaf or HoH instead.

Id*ot/imb*cile/m*ron: Not only do these have a history of use by pro-eugenics asswads to label intellectually Disabled people in order to determine whether or not they should be institutionalized, sterilized, etc., they insult intelligence. I’ve already talked about why that is a No. Don’t insult intelligence; insult poor decisions or moral bankruptcy instead.

L*me: This one specifically targets people with mobility or physical disabilities, especially those affecting the legs. This is usually used as slang to refer to something that is “uncool”. I’m really terrible at argot and colloquialisms, but I’m sure there are other slang terms that aren’t ableist that can be used to mean “bad” or “uncool”.

Ps*cho: This one is offensive to people who experience psychosis. The same goes for use of “psychotic” as an insult.

P*****path/s****path: These are both slurs for people with ASPD that rely on the ableist idea that empathy is what makes us human, a necessary trait to be a good person, etc. Many neurodivergent people have low or no empathy and are still good people and not in any way a threat to society. Oh yeah, that’s what these words mean. That people with low/no empathy are a danger to society. The only people I’m a danger to are (usually ableist) people who are a danger to me. Avoid these and just call someone morally bankrupt. Or an evil fucker. Or whatever.

-phobic (to refer to bigotry): I’ve never liked this one, and it turns out there’s a good reason for that; it conflates bigotry with phobias, which fall under mental illness. Conflating bigotry with mental illness is a towering pile of Don’t Fucking Do That. A good alternative to –phobia is –misia or, if you don’t think that will be recognized/understood, –antagonism.

Short bus/you belong on the short bus/that’s short bus material: Targets ID/DD/LD people. Avoid this one, and, as I said before, any insult to intelligence.

Sp*z: This one specifically targets people with cerebral palsy and other neural issues. “Disorganized” or “incompetent” will suffice.

Special needs/special: The needs of Disabled people aren’t “special”, they’re fucking necessary. And referring to a Disabled person as “special” or “a special” is just…my soul hurts too much to even think about that. Don’t. Stop. No. Just say “Disabled”.

St*pid: Remember what I said about not insulting intelligence? Don’t.

That gave me a flashback/that gave me PTSD: A coworker recently tapped me on the shoulder after lumbering up to me. Seeing as heavy footsteps and being touched without warning are triggers for me, I jumped about a mile and I felt a sensation like my soul shooting out the top of my spine, and suddenly I was fifteen years old again and my abuser was pinning me to a wall. I was dissociated for the rest of the day. That’s a flashback. Your difficult exam or that bad movie you saw did not give you PTSD or flashbacks.

Triggered (when used as an insult): See above. It’s immensely disrespectful and minimizing of the struggles of people with PTSD (and other conditions that can be triggered, like, say, anxiety or epilepsy).

 

Like I said, that was not a comprehensive list of ableist language; it was just a list of less common ones because I think there are a lot of well-meaning people who use these not knowing that they come from a place of bigotry. Also, I keep seeing a lot of people on the left using these to tear down right-wing bigots, and for the love of SSRIs, please don’t fight bigotry with bigotry.

I think I’m going to stop with the Carrie Fisher quotes. She said a lot of memorable things, of course, but I’m running out of quotes that are apropos for these entries. I might pick up doing the quotes again when I can finally read one of her books without crying.

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thisisforyoucarrie View All →

Mentally ill activist and angry Disabled loudmouth. Neuroqueer as hell.

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