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Say The Word

Euphemisms are insults.
By Kimberley Barreda
I recently read a study from England that said disabled people are still being marginalized by negative public attitudes – with a quarter (26%) of Brits admitting that they have avoided conversations with disabled people.
The reasons they gave were: feelings of nothing in common (48%), fear of causing offense (30%), feeling uncomfortable (20%) and not knowing what to talk about (17%).

My first thought was SERIOUSLY? In the 21st century, when amputees make the finals on Dancing with the Stars, blind skiers race down alpine courses, wheelchair users are doctors and teachers and such, people are so unsophisticated that they don't know what to say to someone only because they are disabled?

If it were 1940 I could understand it, but today, 30% were afraid of causing offense, which I assume to mean with words. And since I live in this community and this affects us all, I wanted to find out WHY they were concerned about what to say, so I did what any reasonable person would do.

I googled “politically correct terms for disabled” looking for clarification.

I wanted to find out WHY they were concerned about what to say, so I did what any reasonable person would do. I googled “politically correct terms for disabled” looking for clarification.

One result had a laughable list of “six things never to say about disabilities” that included the instruction to never use the word disabled, because it could be considered disrespectful.

Another had “seven things never to say” and a most helpful university website instructing non-disabled students to remember that “people with disabilities have the same feelings as you”.

I skipped the 36-page instruction manual on dealing with disabled people, for obvious reasons.

Site after site had the same patronizing fluff... be careful, handicapped people are strange, don't offend them, crouch down and speak directly to them, look them in the eye, don't shout, etc but whatever you do, NEVER EVER refer to their disability as, well, a disability, because, well, you know... they can't handle that.

Many included a helpful list of words to be eliminated from our collective vocabulary and what to replace them with. All patronizing, politically correct, condescending, demeaning, and all rejected decades ago by our community.

There was another common thread. It was the matter of fact portrayal of disabled people as a collective, without differentiation, so different and strange that instructions are required.

Political correctness is the evil twin of ableism - a bludgeon used to deflect from real issues, as though it's not the actual cause, under the guise of paternalism.

The irony is that it shows that authors bias is blatantly on display, so frightened of offending someone that they do the very thing they're trying to avoid.

They dismiss and diminish the reality of it by refusing to use the word disabled, substituting it instead with euphemisms like handicapable, special needs, physically challenged, differently abled, height impaired and the most egregious of all - the evil twin sister of ableism - the politically correct "people with disabilities".

In addition to being profoundly insulting and grammatically incorrect, "people with (insert disability here)" was coined by able bodied people (not one of whom ever asked ME, an actual disabled person what I wanted to be called - hint it's Kim) acting as though it's a nod to our inclusion when it's just another barrier to it.

The insulting part isn't only the terms, it's the underlying implication.

When someone uses a euphemism to refer to disability, they are openly saying that the very state of being disabled is an unpleasant, offensive, embarrassment that has no place in polite society.

That is offensive to some disabled people, even if the euphemist doesn't understand that.

Euphemism - noun: a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant, or embarrassing.

It's not so bad, you're not disabled, you're HANDICAPABLE! You're a person with a disability. Completely different.

You may as well tell me you don't see me as disabled, which is another backhanded compliment, because it does the same thing,

It's a status conferred by people who think they're being supportive but are really saying is I'm going to position myself above you and tell you it's ok, you're not really “one of them”. And even though you are, I'm going to pretend you aren't.

I know I'm supposed to be flattered by that extra care (it said so on the websites) but I'm not.

I'm disdainful that someone would toss something like that out at a disabled person and expect any reaction other than dismissive incredulity.

The word "disabled" in today's lexicon means "prevented from functioning". That is the reality. #SayTheWord

Happy words describing disability are not only belittling, they are not inclusive in any way, in fact they do just the opposite by adding a layer of fragile, unstable, untouchability to disabled people, creating an “otherness” and the erroneous impression that we have to be treated differently.

They are the antithesis of what we've been working toward for decades which is really just anonymous participation.

When someone won't use a word or phrase because THEY have an issue with it and think other people will get upset, that's called projection. What is offensive is the presumption that their lowered expectations of me are normal, only because I'm disabled.

Kimberley Barreda

Kimberley is an award-winning writer, actor, model, disability lifestyle and business marketing specialist, helping businesses reach disabled consumers. Principal at Specialty Casting featuring international disabled talent. See more at Unlimbited

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