In this post, I’d like us to have a look at words commonly used by non disabled people in conversations about disability, and how they are using them. It’s a facetious list, that I am using as a way to let off steam after a month or so of encountering blatant silencing tactics disguised as concern and helpfulness. I suspect I will come back to it from time to time to update it.
Maybe you’d like to join me? Feel free to leave a comment with suggestions.
Glossary of words used in conversations about disability,
help: what happens when a non disabled person decides what a disabled person needs, without asking them but preferring to rely on stereotypes and assumptions, and ensures they get it whether they want it or not
negative: also negativity, negatively etc.– confronting stories that are an honest appraisal of the situation, particularly when pointing out human rights violations or society’s lack of willingness to include disabled people. Often used as an accusation when what is really meant is “I don’t like that you are disagreeing with me”. e.g. “Why do you always speak with such negativity- we are trying to help you”
positive: also positivity, be positive, etc.– happy stories, in which we do not speak about the very real challenges experienced by disabled people in a society that doesn’t care to give them equal rights. Often used as code for “change what you are saying or be quiet- your honest appraisal of the situation is making me uncomfortable”. e.g. “We need to hear more positive stories of disability instead of all this negativity”.
bash: also bashing, bashed, etc.– overly aggressive way of saying that the disabled person said something the non disabled person didn’t agree with, or of saying that the disabled person openly disagreed with the non disabled person. The use of the word bash in this context has nothing to do with physical violence (which actually does happen to disabled people at the hands of non disabled people) but attempts to take advantage of the emotive nature of the word to accuse disabled people of doing something to non disabled people that that aren’t really doing.
intention: what the non disabled person uses as an excuse for offensive behaviour e.g. “it is not my intention to offend, but I know that some people will be angry about my words”. Non disabled people seem to think that intentions are magic and stating them (disingenuously or not) will erase all feelings of hurt and offence.
disability: according to many non disabled parents, disability is what the whole family experiences when one member is disabled
two way street: phrase used to shut down conversation when the disabled person is being persistent in their viewpoint despite the non disabled persons attempts to silence them. The non disabled person wants the disabled person to acknowledge their feelings as a parent/carer even though they won’t acknowledge the value of disabled voices in the conversation, or the very real power imbalance in most conversations about disability and the human rights of disabled people. e.g. “I said I understand your frustration, but you aren’t listening to me. It’s a two way street you know.”
define: actually means to state or describe exactly the nature, scope, or meaning of, but in conversations about disability is usually used to mean to affect a persons life in an inappropriate way because disability is inherently bad.
“but”, “although”, “however”, “despite”, etc.- words used in a sentence that begins with an affirmation and then goes on to tell the disabled person how wrong they are e.g. “You make valid points, however you need to realise it is a two way street and using negativity to bash non disabled people doesn’t help. Having a disability doesn’t define us and you need to realise our intention is to help you and that it would be better for us all to stick together and remain positive.”