Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Politics of Labels

I've been having a lot of discussions lately about the relevance of labels and the issues with some labels versus others.  It's a topic that directly affects a lot of people so naturally discussions can become somewhat heated, but I felt the need to share my thoughts.

Keep in mind firstly, that these are my own opinions and not hard and fast objective rules.  Naturally given that I experience privilege as a white cisfemale, I cannot speak for labels relating to race or non-cis gender issues, but I can speak to my own experiences as a disabled person.  So here are some labels relating to disability and my thoughts on them.

Labels I think are good to use:
Again, this is just my opinion based on what I am personally comfortable with and what most others I connect with within the global disability community are comfortable with.

  • disability
  • disabled
  • person or people with disabilities (this one does come with some issues - see my previous post on person-first language, also this video from Robyn Lambird)
  • PWDs (see above)
  • non-disabled
  • neurodivergent
  • neurotypical
  • neuroatypical
  • mental illness
  • intellectual disability 
  • physical disability
  • wheelchair user
  • deaf or hearing impaired
  • Deaf (for profound deafness)
  • blind
  • visually impaired
  • vision impairment
Disability and disabled are not dirty words.  I have often had discussions with people about the etymology of disability with people interpreting disability as a negative term or with negative connotations by pulling apart the word so that it reads as dis (negative - less than) -abled and therefore we are less than able and lesser people.  I can see and understand this line of thinking, but I all into dispute whether dis is necessarily a prefix in this case, seeing disability as a single word and non-disabled as the antonym, effectively making those without disabilities as Other for a change.  I also argue that it doesn't make us lesser people if or just because we lack some abilities that others have!

Labels that are problematic, but I support in certain circumstances:
  • cripple/d
  • crip
  • gimp
  • gimpy
These are words that have been used as a slur against disabled people for years and thus for most people it is not an ok word to use.  However, there is a movement within the disability community - particularly those who are politically active, to reclaim this word as a positive identity, such as through #cripthevote #cripplepunk #criplit etc.  

As far as I'm concerned, I am still rather uncomfortable with the terms and know several others who would not be ok with using the words for themselves or for others to use it to describe them.  This can be tricky for those on the outside not being sure if it's ok to use or not.  So my advice is don't.  It's fine for some people to identify themselves as such, but don't assume it's ok to identify them or others this way.  We are all different and have very different experiences.

Labels that reeeeeaaalllly bother me:
  • differently abled
  • diffabled
  • handicapable
I've talked about these kinds of labels in the past and how I find them truly condescending.  I have however come across one or two (at most I might add) people who fit the criteria of being people with disabilities but prefer to self-identify as diffabled.  While I feel like the term comes from a place of internalised ableism and I am quick to point out the issues with these labels, I won't stop people from self-identifying as such.  But the terms are rather unhelpful and disingenuous. 
  • handicapped
I have had many a dispute about this one, especially since it is still in common usage in the US and Canada.  As far as I and many others are concerned though, it is an antiquated term and doesn't fit with us, particularly as for many it has been used as a slur and the negative connotations that come with the term.
  • THE disabled
We're not a monolith or a hive-mind or something!
  • Retarded
  • Retard
Just don't.
  • Wheelchair bound
We are not bound to or by our wheelchairs any more than glasses-wearers are bound by their glasses.  They are useful tools that help us to get around.  They're invaluable to our quality of life and not evil life-suckers.  I really don't understand where this term came from...

This is hardly a comprehensive list, but it's a start.  Do you have terms that bother you? or do you disagree with my thoughts?  Let me know in the comments!

1 comment:

  1. Nice to read this article.Thank you so much for sharing this article.