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Ableism/Language

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Last updated 7 December 2016. Page created in or before July 2012 (exact date unknown).

BEFORE YOU CONTINUE:

Note that some of the words on this page are actually slurs but many of the words and phrases on this page are not considered slurs, and in fact, may not actually be hurtful, upsetting, retraumatizing, or offensive to many disabled people. They are simply considered ableist (the way that referring to a woman as emotionally fragile is sexist, but not a slur). You're not automatically a bad or evil person/activist if you have used random language on here, but if you have the cognitive/language privilege to adjust your language, it's definitely worthwhile to consider becoming more aware/conscious of how everyday language helps perpetuate ableist ideas and values.

For my most recent perspective on linguistic ableism and the reason that this page exists, see this post: Violence in Language: Circling Back to Linguistic Ableism
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Ableism is not a list of bad words. Language is *one* tool of an oppressive system. Being aware of language -- for those of us who have the privilege of being able to change our language -- can help us understand how pervasive ableism is. Ableism is systematic, institutional devaluing of bodies and minds deemed deviant, abnormal, defective, subhuman, less than. Ableism is *violence.*

This list has been compiled and changed over time with input from many different disabled people, people with disabilities, self-advocates, d/Deaf and hard of hearing people, people with chronic illnesses, sick people, mad people, neurodivergent people, etc. -- and I am always responsive to suggestions from folks who are directly impacted.

***

Note from 16 June 2013:

This page has received tens hundreds of thousands of pageviews since it launched, and has been simultaneously the subject of a number of angry and accusatory comments and letters as well. I never wrote an introduction to this page before, so I'm going to take the time to briefly do so now. The most frequent accusations that I receive in response to this page can fall into three general accusations that I am a) attempting to police everyone's language, b) obsessed with being politically correct, and or c) extremely hypersensitive to imagined insults and slights. I contend that none of these accusations are true.

Language is inherently political. Both as individuals and as larger social and cultural groups, it is self-evident that the language we use to express all sorts of ideas, opinions, and emotions, as well as to describe ourselves and others, is simultaneously reflective of existing attitudes and influential to developing attitudes.
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The terms that are listed below are part of an expanding English-language glossary of ableist words and terms. I have chosen to include words or phrases that I know of or that are brought to my attention that meet two criteria: 1) Their literal or historical definition derives from a description of disability, either in general or pertaining to a specific category of disability, and 2) They have been historically and or currently used to marginalize, other, and oppress disabled people.

The rationale for including some of these words may be readily apparent to many visitors as meriting inclusion on this list, such as for "retarded" and "invalid." For others, however, there may be the lingering suspicion that I have opted to be overinclusive and thus, extremely hypersensitive and obsessed with being politically correct. The reason that I have listed words that may not readily come to mind when asked to consider "insults and slurs targeting disability" is precisely because so much of this ableist language is utterly pervasive both in everyday colloquy and formal idiom with hardly any notice or acknowledgement, even by fellow disabled people not using the language as part of any reclamation project. On that note, the list is not intended to condemn or scold disabled people who use any of the words included in the spirit of reclamation or as self-descriptors.

Its primary purpose is to serve as a reference for anyone interested in learning about linguistic microaggressions and everyday, casual ableism. And to the observation that some of the terms offered as alternatives carry analogous meanings, I have stated that the reason some words are included while others are not is because some words have oppressive histories and others do not. For example, the word "dumb" has a disability-specific history (referring to people who cannot speak, and often used to refer to Deaf people), whereas the word "obtuse" does not (deriving from a meaning of "beating against something to make it blunt or dull").

Granted, there will always be folks, disabled or not, who will disagree with the existence, purpose, and or scope of this glossary for a variety of reasons. This brief essay is not intended as a thorough examination of and response to every possible criticism, which would merit an entire series of essays to adequately discuss. My hope is that the glossary will continue to serve as a resource for those interested in its purpose and contents, and that criticisms of this page might now be more nuanced and more informed, given this background and explanation.

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+ As a side note, it should be obvious to most readers that political correctness has little, if anything, to do with basic human decency and respect for others, and my primary concern is, in fact, basic human decency and respect for others. Also note that I emphatically insist on referring to myself and my community as autistic, which is assuredly not the politically correct terminology.

++ As another side note, it is my intention to eventually expand the entries on this page to either further explain each term's history and or to link to other pages, such as the Ableist Word Profiles from Forward: Feminists with Disabilities (FWD), that have already done so.
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Glossary of Ableist Phrases

This is a list of ableist words and terms for reference purposes. Some of the entries are slurs, some are descriptions of disabled people or other people with pathologized identities/bodies/experiences, some are slang that derive from ableist origins, and some are common metaphors that rely on disability and ableism. There are also many terms or phrases that are ableist when used together, but are not on this list (like "afflicted with symptoms of [disability]" or "living with physical challenges" or "incapable of managing their behavioral health needs"), because the words taken apart do not have a disability-specific history or current meaning.

This is a living document, constantly growing, expanding, and changing. If I've missed something, please let me know!

One important note: Many people who identify with particular disabilities or disability in general may use descriptors from this list in an act of reclaiming the language. You may well too! BUT if you do not identify with a particular disability/disabled identity, it's probably appropriative to use some of those terms. (Some examples are mad and crip.)

After the list of ableist words and terms, I have included lists of alternatives to ableist slurs, descriptions, and metaphors, if you're interested in unlearning the patterns of linguistic ableism in your own language.

Barren
Refers to people who are infertile, carries sexist connotations as well as ableist ones.
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Blind to ____ / turn a blind eye to ____ / blinded by ignorance/bigotry/etc.
Refers to Blind, low-vision, or sight-limited people.dragon ball xenoverse more character slots mod virgin casino online uk besplatne casino igre bonus tri piramide mobile broadband comparison south africa rcbc tower makati online casino

Bound to a wheelchair (wheelchair bound)
Refers to people with physical or mobility disabilities.paddy power casino android online gambling win real money

Confined to a wheelchair
Refers to people with physical or mobility disabilities.mobile contract bad credit rating casino tables for rent fresno slot machine repair training best slot machine las vegas slotomania app store club usa casino bonus codes 2018
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Crazy 
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Cretin
Refers to people with intellectual disabilities.

Cripple/Crippled (by ____)
Refers to people with physical or mobility disabilities.

Daft
Refers to people with mental or psychiatric disabilities.

Deaf-Mute
Refers to Deaf or hard of hearing people.

Deaf to ____ / turn a deaf ear to ____ / etc.
Refers to Deaf or hard of hearing people.

Derp (also herp-derp and variations)
Refers to people with intellectual disabilities.

Diffability
Can refer to any person with a disability, and is usually a euphemistic phrase to avoid saying "disability" or "disabled."

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Can refer to any person with a disability, and is usually a euphemistic phrase to avoid saying "disability" or "disabled."

Dumb
Refers to d/Deaf or hard of hearing people, people with speech-related disabilities, or people with linguistic or communication disorders or disabilities.

Feeble-Minded
Refers to people with mental, psychiatric, intellectual, or developmental disabilities.
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Handicap(ped)
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Handicapable
Usually refers to people with physical or mobility disabilities, but can also mean any person with a disability.

Harelip
Refers to people with cleft-lip palate or similar facial deformities/cosmetic disabilities.
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Hearing-Impaired
Refers to d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing people.

Hermaphrodite
Refers to people with intersex conditions, whether or not they were coercively assigned to a particular sex/gender, and whether or not they currently identify with a binary gender.

Idiot(ic)
Refers to people with intellectual disabilities.

Imbecile
Refers to people with intellectual disabilities.

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Refers to people with mental or psychiatric disabilities.

Invalid (as a noun, as in "my neighbor is an invalid and never goes outside")
Refers to people with physical or mobility disabilities or chronic health conditions.

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Refers to people with physical or mobility disabilities.

Loony/Loony Bin
Refers to people with mental or psychiatric disabilities.

Lunatic
Refers to people with mental or psychiatric disabilities.

Madhouse/Mad/Madman
Refers to an institution housing people with mental or psychiatric disabilities.

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Refers to someone with bipolar (used to be called manic depression).

Maniac
Refers to people with mental or psychiatric disabilities.

Mental/Mental Case
Refers to people with mental or psychiatric disabilities.

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Refers to people with mental, psychiatric, intellectual, or psychiatric disabilities.

Midget
Refers to little people or people with small stature or a form of dwarfism.

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Refers to people with intellectual disabilities and specifically Down Syndrome. Derives from a double-whammy of racism AND ableism, from the belief that people with Down Syndrome look like people from Mongolia.

Morbidly obese (or just obese)
Refers to fat people/people of size. It's okay to use the word "fat."

Moron(ic)
Refers to people with intellectual disabilities.

Nuts
Refers to people with mental or psychiatric disabilities.
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Psycho
Refers to people with mental or psychiatric disabilities.

Psychopath(ic)
Refers to people with mental or psychiatric disabilities.
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Refers to people with mental or psychiatric disabilities.

Retard(ed)/[anything]-tard (examples: libtard, fucktard, etc.)
Refers to people with intellectual disabilities.

[you belong on the] Short-bus/ that's short-bus material/etc.
Refers to people with intellectual, learning, or other mental disabilities.
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Simpleton
Refers to people with intellectual disabilities.

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Refers to people with cerebral palsy or similar neurological disabilities.
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Specially Abled
Can refer to any person with a disability.

Special Needs
Usually refers to people with learning, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, but can mean any person with a disability. Usually a euphemistic phrase to avoid saying "disability" or "disabled."

Stupid
Refers to people with intellectual disabilities (i.e. "in a stupor").

Suffers from ____
Can refer to any person with a disability.

Wacko/Whacko
Refers to people with mental or psychiatric disabilities.

The term "impairment" is sometimes acceptable and sometimes not. Blind, low-vision, and limited-sight people generally find "visual impairment" or "vision impairment" offensive. Likewise, d/Deaf and hard of hearing people generally find "hearing impairment" offensive. Other disability communities use the word commonly, as in, "learning impairment," "cognitive impairment," or "functional impairment." Your mileage may vary.
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Non-ableist language:
Always respect an individual person's preference for identifying or describing themself, even if that is not what the majority in a community prefers. Again, as above, not every person with every disability is personally upset or hurt by every term on this list, even ones that reference their specific disability. That's why this list is meant as a learning/awareness/consciousness tool, not a litmus test or a censorship guide.

Instead of an ableist word or phrase, perhaps you actually meant to say...
(more invective replacements that use profanity/swears are included at the very bottom in a separate list)
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Bleak
Boring
Bullish
Callous
Careless
Confusing
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Coward
Crappy
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Devoid of _____
Disgusting
Dull
Enraged
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Extremist
Furious
Gross
Horrible
Ignoramus
Ignorant
Impolite
Inane
Incomprehensible
Inconsiderate
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Infuriating
Insensibleblack friday 3d tv 2018 uk online casino app real money vegas lost wow item slots macro 888casino android
Insipid
Irrational
Jerk
Lacking in _____
Livid
Mean
Nasty
Nefarious
Nonsense
Nonsensical
Obtuse
Outrageous
Overwrought
Paradoxical
Pathetic
Petulant
Pissant
Putrid
Rage-inducing
Reckless
Ridiculous
Rude
Scornful
Self-contradictory
Shameful
Solipsistic
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Terrible
Tyrannical
Unbelievable
Unconscionable
Unheard of
Uninspired
Unoriginal
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Vomit-inducing
Without any _____ whatsoever
Wretched
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For describing people with disabilities/disabled people in general:
Disabled
Has a disability
With a disability
With a chronic health condition
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Neuroatypical
Neurodivergent

For describing people on the autism spectrum:
Person/people on the autism/autistic spectrum
Autistic person/people
Person/people with autism
Aspie/Autie (note -- this term is often only really used by people who claim it, and often not by many politically autistic people)
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For describing people with intellectual disabilities:
With an intellectual disability
Has an intellectual disability
With a cognitive disability
Has a cognitive disability

For describing people with sensory disabilities:
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Low vision
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Hard of hearing
DeafBlind
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For describing people with physical or mobility disabilities:
With a physical disability
With a mobility disability
Uses a wheelchair
In a wheelchair
Uses crutches
Uses a cane
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Has/With [specific condition here]

Possible Replacement Insults Using Swears/Profanity (directly below)
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Asshat
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Fuckface
Half-assed
Shitty

(I know a lot of people who align with feminist, womanist, and other anti-oppression politics have conflicting feelings about the term "douchebag" and its variations like "douchecanoe," "douchehat," etc. Some think it's fine because vaginas can naturally clean themselves without douching, but others think it's misogynistic in general because a douche is something women use, and others think it's transmisogynistic specifically because transwomen with constructed vaginas may need to use a douche because theirs won't clean naturally. This was probably a lot of TMI. Sorry about that. TL;DR, douche- and variations are disputed as to whether they're okay or not, and there are valid reasons.)
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