Identity-First Language and Why You Should Default to It

Content/trigger warning: cursing, discussion of ableism

I feel like other people (*cough* Autistic Hoya *cough*) have done this better than I can, but I’m going to try my hand at this: why “D/disabled” is preferable to “person with a disability”, i.e. why person-first language (PFL) is a load of crap and identity-first language (IFL) is more respectful. Note: this is in general. There are individuals who use person-first language, and—as far as I’ve heard—people with Down syndrome prefer, well, the phrasing I just used. I have also seen PFL being used for people with cancer.

So, why (in general) should you say “disabled” instead of “person with a disability”? Several reasons. One, the social model aspect of disability. I maintain that the social model of disability, which posits that disability exists because society is not set up to accommodate Disabled people, is flawed—even with all access barriers removed, my brain would still be trying to kill me, and it would still fuck seriously with my ability to do things—but the ablenormativity inherent in society does indeed disable Disabled people. The use of “person with a disability” instead of “disabled” ignores this crucial fact.

Two, “person with a disability” implies that disability can be separated from a person. Because of the social aspect of disability, this is impossible. This is especially true for Autistic people because our Autisticness informs so many aspects of our lives that it is impossible for autism to be separated from the person. Even allistic Disabled people, though, cannot be separated from their experiences of being Disabled by society and their bodies/brains. And you know what? “Disabled” is not a dirty word, and that is because disability does not reflect negatively on the person. Seeing disability as reflecting negatively on the Disabled person is ableism, full stop.

Three, “person with a disability” is a misguided attempt at making people see Disabled people’s humanity that is predicated on an ableist idea. If someone has to say “person with a disability” in order to remind themselves that a Disabled person is indeed a person, that’s rooted in ableism too deep to be fixed by an incorrect euphemism that is in and of itself ableist. PFL, instead of emphasizing a person’s humanity, plays into the aforementioned (point two) ableist concept of disability; if you have to separate disability from the person because “oooooh disability is BAD”, that’s ableism. (Remember how I said earlier, though, that PFL is preferred for people with cancer? Yeah, this is why. People saying that cancer is horrible are completely right.)

Look, words mean things and semantics have an effect on how people think. IFL recognizes the experiences and identity and humanity of Disabled people. PFL dehumanizes Disabled people. Which one would you rather use as a default? (If you say PFL, get the fuck off my blog.)

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How You Does Ally, Part II: Allyship With the Autistic Community

Content/tw: cursing, discussion of ableism, including eugenic abortion

As previously discussed, here are some good ways to support the Autistic community, especially during motherfucking April:

  1. Like I said in my last entry on metonymy, don’t get your knickers in a twist over metonymy. Metonymy is a figure of speech that uses thing X, which is associated with thing Y, to refer to thing Y; for example, the phrase “America is enacting racist policies” really means “the American government is enacting racist policies”. Similarly, “I fucking hate men” means “I fucking hate systemic misogyny and the fact that men act as oppressors due to systemic misogyny” and “allistic people suck” means “anti-Autistic ableism sucks and the fact that allistic people act as oppressors due to anti-Autistic also sucks”. If you’re allistic and hear an Autistic person complaining about allistic people, don’t get all pissy and offended. And if you do get pissy and offended, maybe think about about how much you really care about the rights of allistic people.
  2. Remove the R-slur and any ableist slurs relating to intelligence or ability to speak from your vocabulary. NEVER use “Autistic” as an insult.
  3. Do not donate to Autism $peaks or patronize any of their partners. Do not “light it up blue”. If you can find one (many of them are organized on Facebook), go to a protest of an A$ walk.
  4. Do your research. Read books and other materials by Autistic-run organizations like AWN or ASAN.Read work by Autistic people like Autistic Hoya (http://www.autistichoya.com/), Radical Neurodivergence Speaking (http://timetolisten.blogspot.com/), and Amy Sequenzia (https://ollibean.com/author/amy-sequenzia/). Check out the books Loud Hands by Julia Bascom and All the Weight of Our Dreams by The Autism Women’s Network and Lydia X. Z. Brown. Neurotribes by Steve Silberman is not by an Autistic person, but is pretty respectful.

    Oh, and there are some fantastic Autistic activists on Twitter, such as @EbThen, @painandcats, the aforementioned @AmySequenzia and @autistichoya, and @neurowonderful, who also has a brilliant YouTube series called Ask an Autistic (https://www.youtube.com/user/neurowonderful). If for some reason you want to follow me on Twitter, I’m @IMissCarrie.

    Also, I hate to say this, but Temple Grandin and John Elder Robison have made it clear that they are not invested in the Autistic community, so avoid their work. Internalized ableism: it is teh suck.
  5. Autistic voices (including ASL, AAC, writing, or any other form of communication a non-speaking Autistic person may use, as well as the sources listed above) are more important than allistic ones. Amplify those voices by sharing our work on social media or IRL when possible (as mentioned in my last allyship entry, this is called “pass the mic” activism).

    If someone directly asks you a question about anti-Autistic ableism like “How is Autism $peaks bad?” in person, try to use what you have learned from Autistic people when answering. If someone asks you such a question online, link the asker to a resource created by an Autistic person.
  6. Speaking of communication, don’t assume that a non-speaking Autistic person is not competent or doesn’t have thoughts, feelings, or needs. Be prepared to be flexible and discuss communication with Autistic people when interacting with them, both in and out of activist spaces.
  7. Circling back to the idea of Autistic voices being the ones that matter when addressing anti-Autistic ableism, understand that being Autistic makes you an expert on autism. This is especially important when trying to support Autistic people through charities; any autism-related “charity” that is not run by Autistic people is probably doing more harm than good. Tip: the shitty “charities” often use a puzzle piece as a symbol of the fact that autism is a mysterious puzzle in need of solving (gag me).
  8. Related to the last point, don’t be suckered in by any subspecies of paaaaaaaaaaaarent (martyr mommy, Autism ParentTM, etc.) who claim that autism is tragic, a disease, “stole their child”, a burden, etc. These paaaaaaaaaaaarents love to bitch and moan about how much they are suffering, and they make the fact that their child is Autistic all about them. They may say bullshit ableist things like “I love my child, but I hate their autism”. Autism is an inherent part of Autistic people; hating “their autism” is hating their child. They may also defend ABA and insist that Autistic activists are “high-functioning”, and that their “low-functioning” child should be “cured”.

    These people often cannot be swayed, but it is worth trying, especially because dealing with the kind of violent ableism these people are capable of can be harmful or traumatic for Autistic people, and we need our allies to point these people, many of whom have been poisoned by A$ and similar organizations, to resources by Autistic people. And don’t read their fucking books (To Siri With Love, etc.); in fact, you can help by leaving one-star reviews of that shit.
  9. Don’t use functioning labels. They’re arbitrary and dehumanizing. I talk a little about them in day 18 of the 30 Days of Autism Acceptance 2017 challenge, found here: https://thisisforyoucarrie.wordpress.com/2017/05/01/30-days-of-autism-acceptance/
  10. Default to identity-first language (“Autistic person”, not “person with autism”). If any specific Autistic person says that they prefer person-first, refer to them the way they like. Even if I want to smack the internalized ableism out of them.
  11. Focus on accommodation rather than “cure” or “fixing” Autistic people. Understand that a “cure” is eugenics, as you cannot make a person not Autistic without effectively killing the person that they are. Oppose development of potential prenatal tests for autism, as these will lead to eugenic abortion. Yeah, you heard me. Talk to the trisomy 21 community if you don’t believe me.

    Regarding accommodation, this can include accessible Web design and event planning, e.g. not typing in all caps, subtitling YouTube videos, not using autoplay, having a cool-down room to get away from overstimulation at IRL events, holding scent-free events, etc.
  12. If you live in the United States, DO NOT CALL THE POLICE ON AUTISTIC PEOPLE. They don’t know how to deal with us. They’ll probably just kill us. Okay? Okay. This goes double if the Autistic person in distress is a person of color. The only exception to this is if the person in distress requests that you call the police.
  13. Don’t support autsploitation media like Atypical or The Good Doctor that rely on 1) ableist and harmful stereotypes 2) non-Autistic actors “cripping up” (an actor without X disability playing a Disabled character with X disability).
  14. Don’t rely on stereotypes. Understand that most of them are bullshit. If you are a media creator making an Autistic character, do your research and get an Autistic sensitivity reader. Or maybe I’ll do an entry on writing Autistic characters later. (I have too fucking many ideas for this blog.)
  15. I may do an entry on this later…or I may not, because other people have done it better. But here’s some information on why ABA is abusive conversion therapy and why you should never support it. https://wetwareproblem.tumblr.com/post/156895911301/ducki3-knerdy-knitter-ducki3
  16. Never tell an Autistic person to stop stimming, make eye contact, or in any other way be less Autistic.

That’s all I can think of right now. Go forth and engage in allyship, not allyshit.

How You Does Ally, Part I: Allyship With the Mentally Ill Community

Content/tw: cursing, discussion of saneism

I’m probably going to do at least two of these; one about allyship to the mentally ill community and one about allyship to the Autistic community. I might also do one about allyship to cluster B people. And maybe one for the whole Disabled community, but that’s so huge and diverse, I might have to break it up. We’ll see. But I’m starting with a list of how to be a good ally to mentally ill people in general…well, with a few examples that are specific to certain disorders. Here we go:

  1. This goes for being an ally to any marginalized group: don’t get your knickers in a twist over metonymy. Metonymy is a figure of speech that uses thing X, which is associated with thing Y, to refer to thing Y; for example, the phrase “America is enacting racist policies” really means “the American government is enacting racist policies”. Similarly, “I fucking hate men” means “I fucking hate systemic misogyny and the fact that men act as oppressors due to systemic misogyny” and “mentally healthy people suck” means “saneism sucks and the fact that mentally healthy people act as oppressors due to saneism also sucks”. If you’re mentally healthy and hear an MI person complaining about mentally healthy people, don’t get all pissy and offended. And if you do get pissy and offended, maybe think about about how much you really care about the rights of mentally ill people.
  2. Remove saneist language, especially insults, from your vocabulary. Don’t call gunsexual right-wingers with their heads up their asses “ins*ne”; call them gunsexual right-wingers with their heads up their asses. Don’t call selfish, violent assholes “p*****paths”; call them selfish, violent assholes. Don’t even call that party you went to last night “cr*zy”; call it “wild”.
  3. Similarly, I’ve touched on this before, but don’t blame violence or bigotry on mental illness. Mental illness is a horrible predictor of whether or not someone will be violent or bigoted.
  4. For that matter, correct your friends and family when they use saneist language (assuming it is safe for you to do so). If you know someone who is MI and uses saneist language, well, internalized saneism is wicked hard to shake, and that should probably be handled by another MI person. Also, they could be reclaiming the terms. But definitely correct other mentally healthy people who are contributing to bigotry against mentally ill people if you can.
  5. Do not, under any circumstances, refer to suicide as being “cowardly” or “selfish”. I don’t care if you’ve been suicidal and telling yourself that suicide is cowardly or selfish kept you alive, because a lot of suicidal people believe that their loved ones would be better off with them dead or that they deserve to die. And being shamed for being suicidal may make them feel worse or even push them over the edge. Trying to shame someone into staying alive is…well, I find it morally reprehensible. Don’t do it.
  6. If someone is not a veteran and has PTSD, do not give them shit for it. I mean, sexual assault is approximately as likely to cause PTSD as serving in the military (source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK56506/). Anyone who experiences trauma can get PTSD; it isn’t just soldiers.
  7. Respect people’s triggers. Triggers can be anything from gunshot-like sounds to the cologne someone’s abuser used to wear. If someone says something is a trigger for them, no matter how silly it may seem to you, respect that and do everything you can not to trigger them.
  8. Use trigger and content warnings. (A content warning is ordinarily for mention/brief discussion of something while a trigger warning is for a vivid description of it/showing it.) Like I mentioned, triggers can be anything, but if you’re producing content for a large audience, the best things to warn for are what I call The Trifecta: abuse (specify the type; sexual, physical, emotional, etc.), murder/death, and bigotry. Other good things to warn for are pedophilia, blood, extreme violence, cruelty to animals, drugs (recreational or medicinal), alcohol, explosions, war, and corpses.
  9. If someone says they can’t eat a certain thing, eat in front of people, or go to a certain restaurant, respect that. Eating disorders are fucking bastards.
  10. Understand that therapy and medication aren’t right for everyone. Some people get side effects worse than their symptoms. Some people have medical trauma and can’t safely go to therapists’ offices. Some people have had such shitty therapists that they are afraid to go back to therapy. Whatever the case, mentally ill people deserve to have autonomy over their treatment.
  11. But on the other side of the coin, don’t fucking med shame. Many MI people need our medication to be healthy. Some of us need it to fucking live. Yes, late-stage capitalism is inherently unethical and pharmaceutical companies profit off of the suffering of mentally ill people who need medication. But in your zeal to take down “Big Pharma”, don’t you fucking dare piss on people who need psychiatric meds. No, we’re not just throwing chemicals at the vagaries of life because we’re “weak” or “lazy”. It’s more along the lines of “if you can’t make your own neurotransmitters, getting them from the pharmacy works too”.
  12. If you live in the United States, DO NOT CALL THE POLICE ON MENTALLY ILL PEOPLE. They don’t know how to deal with us. They’ll probably just kill us. Okay? Okay. This goes double if the MI person in distress is a person of color. The only exception to this is if the person in distress requests that you call the police.
  13. Excommunicate yourself from the Cult of Forced Positivity. Don’t ever tell a depressed person that happiness is a choice. Don’t ever tell a person with anxiety that they just need to relax. Don’t ever tell a borderline person that they just have to decide not to be afraid of abandonment. Don’t ever tell a person with body dysmorphic disorder to choose to love their body. Choosing to not be mentally ill is fucking impossible. Also, putting so much emphasis on how happiness is mandatory shames people who experience not only depression, but many other mood disorders, and makes them feel like it’s not okay for them to discuss or even experience their symptoms.
  14. Similarly, if you don’t have a mental illness, don’t give advice on how to deal with it unless you are asked. Just don’t. We’re fucking sick of hearing how doing pilates in the woods at sunrise will cure our neurotransmitter imbalances.
  15. I have mentioned this before, but don’t claim you’re “a little OCD” if you like things neat or “a little anorexic” because you didn’t have that second donut. If you think you might have that illness, go ahead. If you definitely don’t have an illness, don’t talk about having it. It minimizes the experiences of people who are actually MI.
  16. Do not feel entitled. If a MI person tells you what their triggers are or what they can’t eat or that they need you to reassure them about something, you are not entitled to any further information about their mental illness. Don’t ask why we have the triggers we do or why we can’t eat that food or why we need to hear that you don’t hate us. Just give us the respect we deserve and don’t pry.
  17. Finally, practice “pass the mic” activism. Center and amplify mentally ill voices when it comes to conversations about mental illness. Take the recent conversation about how mental illness is not a predictor of whether or not someone will shoot up a school. Sure, it’s good to cite forensic psychologists who say that mental illness is a terrible predictor of violence. But about every mentally ill person either could have also told you that, and trust me, we are Tweeting and Facebooking and blogging and screaming about it.

I think that’s all I have for now. Go forth and be a not-asshole about mental illness.

 

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.