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March 11, 2019 | by  | in Token Cripple |
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Token Cripple

When respectful, politically correct adults ask what the title of this column is, I have begun to expect the same reaction: raised eyebrows, followed by an uncomfortable “oh!” This reaction had me doubting myselfwas the use of the word “cripple” really just too shocking and off-putting to have as the title of a column which is supposed to be about acceptance and education? The thing is, I totally get most people’s reaction to the word. It is, without a doubt, one of the most offensive words you could call a person with a disability. The word “cripple” is tinged with connotations of scary sidekicks in black-and-white movies or the painfully mopey boy in The Secret Garden. It’s a word that can be used as a weapon against those with disabilities by those without. And it is for that reason it can be so powerful for the disabled community to reclaim it if they choose.

Using a word that was once used against a minority group by a dominant majority can be empoweringmore, it can be a sign of pride and solidarity. And, yet, it is an idea which is troubling for some. So, for the sake of legitimising the title of this column once and for all, let me simplify it for you. Firstly, if I hear “it’s unfair if you can say it but I can’t!” … you will hear “inequality is also unfair”. Secondly, imagine this: you are at a party with your girlfriends, and a seedy drunk guy you have never met comes up to you and says, “Sup, my bitches?” But, come on girls, it’s okay isn’t it, because you say it to each other all the time and in, like, an ~empowering~ way?

Yeah nah.

It’s not okay. It’s not “just a joke, bro”.

While not everybody with a disability is the same (*shock*), it’s a safe bet that if you don’t have a disability, you can’t go around calling people cripples. You may have a friend with a disability who uses this type of language (and, I reiterate, I can’t speak on behalf of an entire community) but as a rule of thumb, stay clear from all language that has a harmful history against a minority group you’re not part of. And please, that includes describing your mate who twisted his ankle in Dakota as a cripple because he’s using crutches for a week. He’s not. He’s just an idiot.

Language can be a niggly little issue for the disabled community. When I was on a school placement at a school for children with additional learning needs, we were encouraged to use the word “impaired” rather than “disabled”. Similarly, some use the very politically correct term “differently abled” or “difable”. I used to be in this campbelieving that the word “disabled” didn’t describe me because I wasn’t really not able I was just “different”, and that I wasn’t really disabled because I didn’t fit my own narrow perception of disability. Even now, I still tend to refer to myself as a “person with a disability”using what is known as “person-first language”.  

But, really, why am I so afraid of admitting that, yes, I am disabled? Is my fear of boldly stating “I am disabled” rather than “I have a disability” really just a manifestation of my inability to accept who I am, due to a deep-rooted sense of internalised ableism? Is this a by-product of a discriminatory society which subconsciously taught me not to be proud of my disability, and that I am not wanted or valuable to my community because of it?

Introspective shit, man.

But really, the message of this is quite simple: just don’t be a dick. Listen to the language people with disabilities use for themselves, and respect that. Nice and easy, really.



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