a·ble·ism

/ˈābəˌlizəm/noun  Ableism is defined as discrimination or social prejudice against people with disabilities (and in favor of able-bodied people) based on the belief that typical abilities are superior.

“That’s crazy!”

“Lame!”

“Our company vision”

“Mute your computer microphone”

We hear these on a regular basis. And while assuming positive intent, the impact can be negative. Phrases like this imply that a disability makes a person less, and that a disability is a negative problem to be fixed rather than a normal human experience. We are all different.

I offer three ableist words and phrases to avoid:

Terms like “crazy, nuts, insane or psycho”. Try chaotic, reckless, bizarre, unpredictable instead. 20% of US adults live with a mental illness (perhaps you are one) and using these words is insulting. Words matter.

Made-up words like “diffability” and “handicapable” that are intended to remove the words’ negativity can come across as condescending. Again, this implies that a disability makes a person less, and that a disability is a negative problem to be fixed.

The phrase “suffers from a disability”. Are they suffering? People with lived experience disagree and want to be treated equally and live their unique lives without pity. We all get to choose what a full life means to each of us. The Arc works to highlight the strength, wisdom, and capacity that people with disabilities have and to promote a just society where everyone is known to be valuable and have worth.

The world and language is ever-evolving and it remains important to be respectful and use inclusive language when communicating. My examples here are only a preview, and in fact I do not speak on behalf of this community. But I am an advocate for human rights and an agent for change and I encourage you to read more and educate yourself. These are my views expressed and not necessarily those of The Arc. I include a few interesting references for you here:

Stanford News

Blog Lydia X.Z.Brown

Huffington Post

The Arc Minnesota Blog


Molly King is the Marketing Manager for Arc’s Value Village Thrift Stores & Donation Centers

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