Language is power. A catchy phrase can win an election and a sentence, if strung in just the right way, can change the course of understanding. It can hold all the power you can stuff into it and it can strip power from a group with little more than a few letters. “The disabled”. Not people. We become nothing more than canes and wheelchairs, medications and abnormality.
“The suffering of the disabled”. We are often portrayed as ‘suffering’ when the only thing that most disabled people are ‘suffering’ from is discrimination. Hate crimes in the U.K. have reached a new high and it’s honestly quite a worry amongst members of our community. In calling us ‘the disabled’, using a definite article is homogenising and dehumanising. And when we, as a minority, are viewed as less than human, people can pretend to justify their fear and hate. The Disability Action Society is made up of powerful people, academics and students campaigning for a future free from discrimination and the societal barriers that prevent us from getting on with life. The minute you call our community “the disabled”, your language attacks our message of equality.
Disability and the discrimination that society throws at us have been featured prominently this year, with films such as I Daniel Blake highlighting issues in the Department of Work and Pensions that we know all too well. Whereas they were a horrific shock to most cinema goers, for disabled students, scenes of feeling degraded, of immense piles of paperwork, of condescending testers with no medical qualifications telling you that you’re “not disabled enough” when you and your doctor know your limits. It’s all a yearly or even monthly occurrence. But in order to tackle big things like the status of disabled people in the eyes of the government, we must first focus on the smaller issues. Things that may appear insignificant to most, but for our movement, they lay the foundations of everything we believe in.
The public perception of disability must change from one of pity and otherness, of condescension and charity or of being “inspirational” for doing nothing more than living our lives, to one of respect and tolerance and equal human rights. And this is why tackling the language used when describing disabled people is crucial in our fight for equality.
BA English and Music
(Image courtesy of Disability Rights Maryland)