This guest post is contributed by Mary Murtland as part of her MLS internship with NNLM R7. Mary has an extensive resume including working as a library director in a rural library for over a decade! We are fortunate to have her spend her University of Rhode Island internship experience with us.
Do you have a disability bias? Project Implicit, a non-profit collaboration of researchers, created a website with a collection of Implicit Association Tests (IAT). Its mission is “to educate the public about bias”. On this website, after you agree to participate, you will be asked to choose an IAT from a list of topics. Give the Disability IAT a try. The results may surprise you.
Ableism is the discrimination or prejudice against people with disabilities. It is based on the belief that non-disabled have more value than disabled people and that typical abilities are superior. Ableism assumes that disabled people require ‘fixing’ and defines people by their disability. The concept of “fixing” a disability started with the medical model of disability. We are taught to think that something is “wrong” with a person, and it needs a doctor’s medical attention to be “fixed”. Just because something is different does not mean it is bad. We need to recognize how ableism is perpetuated through our everyday communication at the library.
Ableist language is ever-present in conversations and people working at or visiting a library may not even be aware that they are using it. Making use of ableist language both internalizes and reveals our unconscious biases. Ableist language evolves just like slang, with phrases catching on and becoming widely accepted parts of our vocabulary. Examples are works and phrases like making a “dumb” choice, turning a “blind eye”, acting “crazy or “falling on deaf ears”. Using these kinds of terms and phrases reinforces negative attitudes or actions and continues to promote inaccurate descriptions of what having a disability means. Keep in mind that words have power and ableist language is both harmful and unnecessary. Ableist words have become an established part of society’s vocabulary and changing the use of these words will have to be an ongoing process that we will have to work together to change.
Another thing to consider is that sooner or later non-disabled people will commonly experience a disability later in life and will also be harmed in the future by the established and ongoing ableist words that are being maintained now. According to the CDC, “one in four adult Americans live with a disability.” “The most common disability type, mobility, affects 1 in 7 adults. With age, disability becomes more common, affecting about 2 in 5 adults age 65 and older.”
Neither of these choices are wrong. Oftentimes it is a matter of personal preference and worth asking a person with a disability what language he or she would like you to use.
|Words to avoid||Consider using instead|
|When referring to a person||When using as an adjective|
|Afflicted with/by, stricken with, suffers from, victim of||Has a disability, is disabled|
|Blind to ____ / turn a blind eye to ____ / blinded by ignorance/bigotry/etc. / double-blind review||Blind, low-vision, or sight-limited people||willfully ignorant, deliberately ignoring, turning their back on, overcome by prejudice, doubly anonymous, had every reason to know, feigned ignorance|
|Confined to a wheelchair, wheelchair bound||uses a wheelchair, wheelchair-user, in a wheelchair, began using a wheelchair, needs or requires a wheelchair, is a full-time wheelchair-user|
|Crazy, cuckoo, deranged, disturbed, insane, loony, loony bin, lunatic, mad, nuts, psycho, psychotic||person with a mental health disability, person with mental illness/mentally ill person, person with a psychiatric disability/||outrageous, bananas, bizarre, amazing, intense, extreme, overwhelming, wild, confusing, unpredictable, impulsive, reckless, fearless, lives on the edge, thrill-seeker, risk-taker, out of control|
|Cripple, gimp, invalid, lame, spastic, or spaz||physically disabled person, person with a mobility impairment, paralyzed person (if referring to a disabled person)||boring, bland, unexciting, pathetic, or unoriginal.|
|Deaf and dumb/deaf-mute, dumb||Deaf person, nonspeaking Deaf person, non-verbal, signing Deaf person, hard of hearing person, DeafBlind person, ASL user, ASL speaker, signer||To replace dumb: dense, ignorant, lacks understanding, impulsive, risk-taker, uninformed, silly, foolish (to replace metaphor)|
|Deaf to ____ / turn a deaf ear to ____ / etc.||Refers to Deaf or hard of hearing people.||willfully ignorant, deliberately ignoring, turning their back on, had every reason to know, feigned ignorance|
|Defect, birth defect, defective, deformed||describing the specific condition or appearance||Faulty, unreliable, not working,|
|Disabled restroom, Handicapped parking||Accessible restroom/parking|
|High functioning, low functioning||Person who is able to…, person who is unable to…, person with high support needs
Describing the specific characteristics that a person has that are relevant to a particular description or context, e.g. “needs help eating and bathing” or “is able to go to college.”
|Mentally retarded, mentally challenged, mentally handicapped, cretin, imbecile, mongoloid, moron, idiot, retard, riding the short bus, slow, stupid (comes from “in a stupor”), twice exceptional||Person with intellectual disability/intellectually disabled person, person with a cognitive disability/cognitively disabled person, person with a learning disability/learning disabled person||Uninformed, reckless, impulsive, ignorant, risk-taking, risky and dangerous,|
|Midget, vertically challenged||Little person, person of short stature, person with dwarfism/dwarf||Short, petite, small, little,|
|Normal, regular, able-bodied||Does not have a disability, nondisabled, is not living with a disability|
|Special ed, special needs||Disabled, blind or visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing, speech or communication disability, learning or cognitive disability, psychiatric or mental health disability, physically disabled, developmentally disabled, emotionally disabled, a little person,|
Brown, Lydia X.Z. (2021, November 16). Ableism/Language. https://www.autistichoya.com/p/ableist-words-and-terms-to-avoid.html
Communicating With and About People with Disabilities. (2022, February1). Disability and Health Promotion. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/materials/factsheets/fs-communicating-with-people.html
Eisenmenger, Ashley. (2019, December 12). Ableism 101. Access Living. https://www.accessliving.org/newsroom/blog/ableism-101/
Ladau, Emily. (2021). Demystifying Disability. New York: Ten Speed Press.
Novic’, Sara. (2021, April 5). The Harmful Ableist Language You Unknowingly Use. Equality Matters. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210330-the-harmful-ableist-language-you-unknowingly-use
Shelley, Crystal. (2020, July 2). Ableism in Writing and Everyday Language. Rabbit With a Red Pen. https://www.rabbitwitharedpen.com/blog/ableism
Shelley, Crystal. (2021, March 16). Ableism in Writing and Everyday Language. The American Copy Editors Society. https://aceseditors.org/news/2021/ableism-in-writing-and-everyday-language