Saturday, October 11, 2008

Good Intentions and Worst Words

Language is a hot button in the disability community. We have words that can be used among ourselves, but we prefer able-bodied people (ABs) to omit them from their vocabulary. Terms like "crip" and "gimp" and other pet names are bandied about, but we find them especially derogatory if someone outside our group dares to speak their names.

In fact, most people are squeamish about certain words, but there are no definitive guidelines for determining when it is okay and when not to use such language. Often words used in complete innocence are offensive. Do we need a glossary of unacceptable terms? I think the guideline should be to be respectful when talking and not too sensitive when listening.

Ouch! is an online UK magazine about disability sponsored by the BBC. If you are unfamiliar with it, take a look. Ouch! has been exploring language used in reference to disability. In 2003, they assembled a list of the top ten offensive words and asked their readers to vote which were perceived as most offensive. Ouch! revisited that exercise and published the results in August. Responders were asked to voluntarily identify themselves as disabled or not.

Here is a data visualization in of the results:

Worst Words by Disabled vs. Not Disabled
2053 votes cast: 73.9% non-disabled 18.3% disabled 7.6% "rather not say"
Click here to see relative values by percentage.