In this powerful blog post, Rhodes Scholar Rachel Kolb discusses how ableist phrases 'creep' into daily language and expressions. In her words, 'Ableism is a type of prejudice or discrimination against individuals who experience disability, largely popularized by disability rights movements. Ableism privileges the experiences of “able-bodied” individuals'.
Rachel goes on to explain that ableist phrases such as 'turn a deaf ear to' or 'blind rage' function similar to heuristics and often embody cultural assumptions about ability. In the intersectional world that we live in, we must be 'more conscious of the words we use and the ideas they imply'. Our awareness must address race, class, gender, sexuality, and undoubtedly extend to (dis)ability.
Rachel ends with asserting that thoughtful language matters because 'language enables us to be more sensitive to others, and also to think more critically about what we are really trying to say.' We can and should think more critically about how powerful language is as a medium of expressing ideas. We should strive for more precise and sensitive language that avoids harmful assumptions of individual experiences.
Because language is an ingrained part of daily interactions, change may be difficult. But the first step can be as simple as catching and internally correcting yourself employing physical and mental ableist terms such as 'retarded' or 'crazy.' After all, as Rachel notes, wouldn't you rather have your friend express to you, 'I had a wonderful time catching up with you and learning about your latest experiences', than 'It was good to see you?'
It is time that we not longer allow the concept of hearing (and other ableist concepts) to become 'emblematic of knowing, [and] of connecting with other people'.
Consider these more overtly ableist phrases: “turn a deaf ear to,” “blind rage,” “lame,” “crippled,” “dumb.” If an outsider were to measure the value our culture assigns to disability, based only on these words, wouldn’t the logical conclusion be that deafness, blindness, physical and intellectual disabilities ...are all markers of inferiority, rather than unique human experiences...? Racial and homophobic slurs have become frowned upon, and many feminists have called attention to how the language we use constructs women as deviations from the male norm. But I still marvel at the degree to which ableist language persists. For example, when conducting a recent online search for the words “blind” and “deaf” in the New York Times archive, I found far more results referring to political blunders or acts of ineptitude than I did to actual deafness- or blindness-related issues.