Brett Luft

ABLEIST

“I don’t use albeist language.”

This is probably one of the boldest lies I’ve ever told myself. When I was a child, I was one of those kids who refused to say the word “retarded.” I understood words can be hurtful. That’s why I didn’t say certain things. Because words—and the voices we use—have the ability to divide people.

I am still this person. Words DO divide people. I’m often calculated in how I use language—this is probably good because it proves I actually learned something while pursuing my education.

But not all words divide people the same way. This is something I’ve been thinking about recently.

When I was young I was tempted to use ableist language. I chose not to use the words I knew were problematic, but I did substitute them for others.

This made me feel pretty good, because I decided it made me a good person.

I was wrong.

I would later find out that these words, while not as obvious as others, had massive problems of their own.

The best example of this is “lame.” In my mind, “lame” was an appropriate substitute because it sounded softer. I could use it freely because it didn’t create a stigma around a minority population.

Holy heck that was wildly incorrect.

While the dictionary definition of “lame” includes something that’s undesirable or uncool, its first definition is: having a body part and especially a limb so disabled as to impair freedom of movement.

This means that by using this word I was facilitating a culture that stigmatized a different group of people. People with physical disabilities who might not have access to the same freedoms that I have access to.

That definition had a lot of impact when I thought about it. I was basically substituting one disability for another. I made a vow to try to phase out this area of my life. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I was living a life of imperfection.

“Crazy” creates a negative culture for people with a variety of mental health conditions. “Mad” has the same impact as “crazy.” There are a ton of other examples, but I’m sure you can figure them out. Just as I’m sure I’ll find more as I continue down this path.

I embraced humility. It was a relief to realize that I was wrong. And it was even more important for me to realize there was a lot of room for growth.

This post is titled “ABLEIST” because it is a reminder that I should never be comfortable being good enough. It also keeps to the theme of naming these posts after the word that best captures the subject matter. Being a decent human isn’t achieved by collecting points and cashing them in at the end of the day.

Kindness is not a Starbucks loyalty card. It is achieved through reflection and an endless pursuit for improvement. I write this post as a reflection for myself, but I hope to inspire others to think more critically about the words they use.

I’ll probably come back to this conversation in the future. I think it’s an important discussion to have, and I don’t expect to get it right on the first try.

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