Alternatives to Ableist Language

Content/trigger warning: cursing, ableist terms (most of which are censored)

Hello, dear readers! Time for an entry I’m surprised my Patreon supporters didn’t select earlier: alternatives to ableist language.

Now, ableism is not a list of words, it’s a system of oppression that disenfranchises, harms, and even kills Disabled people. But eliminating ableist language from one’s vocabulary is a good first step someone can take as an ally or as a Disabled person trying to unlearn internalized or lateral ableism. So, here are some common ableist terms (this is going to be a long list, but not an exhaustive one) and what you can say instead. Yes, some of my suggestions include curse words. It’s me; what else did you expect?

Autistic Hoya also already did something very like this here (https://www.autistichoya.com/p/ableist-words-and-terms-to-avoid.html), and they’re better at writing than I am, so feel free to just check theirs out. Yes, I used Autistic Hoya’s post to write this entry and I credit them with not just the information in this blog entry but at least 30% of what I know about ableism.

  • Blind to/To turn a blind eye to: Ignorant of/To be willfully ignorant of
  • Confined to a wheelchair: Wheelchair user, uses a wheelchair, uses a wheelchair full-time (or some of the time, depending), requires a wheelchair
  • Cr*pple (referring to a person with a mobility disability): Person with a mobility disability, physically D/disabled
  • Cr*ppling (used metaphorically): Paralytic, debilitating, insurmountable
  • Cr*zy/Ins*ne^ (referring to a mentally ill person): Mentally ill, psychiatrically D/disabled
  • Cr*zy/Ins*ne^ (used to insult a person): Wild, impulsive, impetuous, feckless, reckless, unpredictable, out of control
  • Cr*zy/Ins*ne^ (referring to something else, like a party): Busy, ridiculous, wild, unbelievable, weird
  • Deaf ears/To fall on deaf ears: Unwilling ears/To [talk to] someone unwilling to listen
  • Derp/Herp-derp/Duh/Doy/Durr (mimicking sounds that ID/DD/LD people supposedly make): That was obvious/Of course/Oh right, I knew that
  • Deluded/Delusional (referring to a person experiencing an altered state such as paranoia or hearing voices): Having intrusive thoughts, experiencing paranoia, hearing voices, experiencing a psychotic break, etc. (as appropriate for the situation)
  • Deluded/Delusional (used to insult a person): Ignorant, out of touch, has unrealistic expectations, believes things that aren’t true
  • Diffabled/Differently abled (referring to D/disabled people): D/disabled
  • Double-blind clinical trial: Doubly anonymous clinical trial/Neither participants nor researchers knew [who was receiving the placebo and who was receiving the real treatment]
  • D*mb/St*p*d^^ (referring to an action): Poorly thought-out, ill-advised, a terrible idea
  • D*mb/St*p*d^^ (referring to an ID/DD/LD person): Person with an intellectual disability, developmentally D/disabled, learning D/disabled (as appropriate for the situation)
  • D*mb/St*p*d^^ (used to insult a person): Unwise, foolish, inept, incompetent, impulsive, ignorant, impetuous, doesn’t think before they act
  • H*nd*c*pped/H*nd*c*p*ble (referring to a D/disabled person, usually physically D/disabled): D/disabled, physically D/disabled (if applicable)
  • Id**t/M*r*n/Imb*c*le: Fool, goofus, incompetent dingbat, fuck-knuckle
  • L*me (referring to person with a mobility disability): Person with a mobility disability, physically D/disabled
  • L*me (used as an insult): Uncool, insipid, boring, un-fun, crappy, shitty
  • Loony bin/Madhouse (referring to an actual institution): Institution for people with mental and/or psychiatric disabilities
  • Loony bin/Madhouse (used metaphorically): Disorganized, wild, confusing, unpredictable
  • [Name of neurodivergent condition, e.g., “Psychotic,” “Bipolar,” “Autistic,” “OCD”] (used metaphorically): Wild, impulsive, impetuous, feckless, reckless, unpredictable, out of control
  • Narcissistic/Borderline (referring to people who are supposedly evil/abusive due to NPD or BPD; not ableist if being used as neutral descriptors for people who actually have those conditions): Selfish, self-centered, egotistical, toxic, manipulative, abusive, impulsive, out of control, evil, mean, asshole, dickhead, motherfucker
  • -phobic (e.g., homophobic, Islamophobic): Bigoted against [oppressed group], -misic, -antagonistic
  • Ps*ch*path/S*c**path (referring to people who are supposedly evil/abusive due to ASPD): Evil, abusive, callous, heartless, soulless, toxic, manipulative, selfish, mean, asshole, dickhead, motherfucker
  • R*t*rd/R*t*rded (referring to a person with an intellectual disability): Person with an intellectual disability, has an intellectual disability (I know, this is PFL, which I often rail against, but that’s what the community prefers)
  • R*t*rd/R*t*rded/-tard as suffix (used as an insult): Ding-dong, assclown, dicksoiree, fuckstick
  • Sp*z (referring to a person with a neurological disability): Neurologically D/disabled or name the specific disability (e.g., cerebral palsy, epilepsy, etc.)
  • Sp*z (used as an insult): Out of control, aimless, reckless, feckless, clumsy, forgetful, klutzy, flighty
  • Special needs/Has special needs: D/disabled/Is D/disabled
  • Wheelchair bound: Wheelchair user, uses a wheelchair, uses a wheelchair full-time (or some of the time, depending), requires a wheelchair

^Plus any number of saneist terms like deranged, cuckoo, nuts/nutso, daft, m*d, loony, lunatic, mental, maniac, ps*cho, wacko, unhinged

^^Yes, this is an ableist term. There are some Disabled people who aren’t ID/DD/LD who insist it isn’t, but how the fuck would they know, it doesn’t target them.

Another important thing to think about when eliminating ableist language from one’s vocabulary is to say what you mean. Is that person with a TBI st*p*d, or do they have memory difficulties? Is that abusive person a s*c**path, or are they cruel and uncaring? Is your schedule cr*zy, or is it busy as all fuck? It’s important to not associate disability with negative shit that actually doesn’t have anything to do with disability–for instance, armchair diagnosis of abusive people–and it’s also important to speak and think accurately and respectfully when you are talking about disability.

I think that’s all I have for now. Thanks to my Patreon supporters: Ace, Emily, Hannah, Mackenzie, Sam, and Sydney! Reminder that it’s only $1 a month to be as cool as them, see blog entries two days before everyone else, and vote in polls to help me choose blog entry topics!

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