Why Ableist Language Matters!

From the desk of Guest Editor, and AXIS Dance Company board member, Rebecca Fortelka.

Rebecca Fortelka, AXIS's Social Media Coordinator

Rebecca Fortelka, AXIS's Social Media Coordinator

Ableism is a hot topic in the disability community. There are so many opinions about ableism. In this blog piece, I aim to dispel some myths about ableism and why it can be both a good and a bad thing. 

Words have the power to hurt or empower, so as not to hurt people when speaking, we have to choose our words wisely. The definition of Ableism, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disabilities.” This language includes, but is not limited to the likes of: crazy, lazy, insane, lame, dumb, retarded, blind, deaf, idiot, imbecile, invalid, maniac, nuts, psycho, and spaz. These are all hurtful words that have the ability to cut deeply.

One could argue that they are only words and we should just ignore them. Yet we also know that words can hurt, and we all need to learn from our missteps. My friend Stephanie Welch, a chronic pain warrior and someone I admire for her strength and advocacy for those of us that are disabled and or deal with chronic pain, said that her social media pages Mrs. Welches Warriors were created to educate people about ableism.  Support and awareness are key when dealing with issues that impact our lives so heavily. Ableist language perpetuates stereotypes. Just because words are used by people in the media or by the disabled community, doesn't necessary make them right. 

As Megan Cottage, another chronic illness warrior, recently pointed out, we who have health issues tend to suppress our personalities and it can be difficult for those of us that don’t understand what we go through to understand. We may have to cancel plans or not be able to respond to electronic communications, but that doesn’t mean we don’t care or appreciate your support and care. When someone uses ableist language, such as "you are lazy" or "you are lame," this shakes us to the core. No one wants to just be excluded from life or ignored. People who are disabled are already considered a marginalized or oppressed class, so we should be building us up and using this as teachable moment to show the world that although we have our struggles, we have the ability to change the world for the better.

On the flip side, encountering ableist language offers people the chance to have an open dialogue about what we as a disabled population face, and how using appropriate and political correct language has its benefits. We want to minimize stereotypes and limiting societal views. At AXIS we use dance as a teaching tool to break down barriers and help people find a common ground with people with and without disabilities. Ableist language is something that has been entrenched in our society, but we hope our AXIS NEXUS blog readers help to educate the world about how ableism hurts and negatively affects lives.