In March I wrote 5 Phrases That Are Actually Ableist. It received a lot of attention, and I realized there were more phrases I thought really needed some attention and deconstruction. Here are 5 more ableist phrases, along with some non-ableist alternatives.
This is such a commonly used term. People tend to forget or misunderstand the slew of medical conditions that cause fatigue, intense chronic pain, muscle weakness and physical illness that make it harder to function the same way that able-bodied, neurotypical people do.
Also, capitalism has relied heavily on this word. We’re called lazy, especially if we have a disability that can’t be seen. If we don’t have the energy to complete a task, we’re lazy. Can’t focus on a task? Lazy. If we don’t understand something, if we’re in agonizing pain, if we have to call in sick to work or can’t get out of bed — we’re lazy.
Take a second to think about characteristics you’ve learned to identify as “lazy.” Likely, most of them are ableist and informed by capitalist rhetoric. For example: staying in bed all day, not having a job, not finishing school work, not completing tasks, not taking care of hygiene. Note that these examples are usually very one-sided. We usually only acknowledge the “problem,” not the reason these things aren’t getting done. That’s because, frankly, capitalism doesn’t care.
Can we scrap this word entirely? Stop writing off people’s disabilities just because they’re not visible or because you refuse to believe they exist. Our bodies aren’t machines. Quit deeming us praise-worthy only when our bodies produce something. Stop prioritizing efficiency over our actual physical and mental well-being.
Be honest: when have we not had the concept of normalcy forced on us in some capacity or another? Again take a moment to reflect on what you think is and isn’t considered normal.
Typically, normalcy is defined by not having a disability or mental illness, not having visible deformities, having a steady job, not needing mobility aids, being able to keep a daily routine, being independent and all-around benefiting from ableism in every way possible. Normalcy can also be maintained by assimilating and conforming to the status quo — purposefully. For example: making or laughing at ableist jokes, perpetuating ableist tropes and using ableist language. All of these uphold the status quo and are seen as “normal.” They’re also almost always within people’s control.
It’s implied that mentally ill and disabled folks should strive for normalcy — in other words, not show any signs that anything’s wrong — otherwise they aren’t worthwhile or good enough.
The only time I feel we should mention normalcy is when we’re talking about our own experiences or comparing our current state of well-being to previous states. Never use your concept of normalcy towards our bodies, behaviors or what you think we should strive for. Accept that the status quo is informed and upheld by white supremacist, ableist capitalism; at the end of the day, it’s bullshit.
In the words of Amy Sequenzia in Normalcy is and Ableist Concept: “I reject normalcy. I am not normal. I don’t look anything close to typical. I am very disabled and I don’t try to pretend that I don’t need help. I am not ashamed of being disabled.”
3. “I’m so addicted!”
Using the word “addicted” to describe how much you love something is a harmless metaphor, right? Wrong.
Think of how our culture sensationalizes addiction on TV shows. We treat addicts’ struggles as a product to consume for gasps and laughs. Meanwhile, we criminalize addiction through “The War on Drugs,” structural racism and classism. We view addiction not as a mental illness, but as a crime, given that most drugs are illegal and used as pawns in the genocide of people of color. We act like folks choose mental illness — as if there aren’t any underlying problems or trauma at the roots of addiction.
“Sources estimate that 25 and 75 percent of people who survive abuse and/or violent trauma develop […] alcohol abuse. Male and female sexual abuse survivors experience a higher rate of alcohol and drug use disorders compared to those who have not survived such abuse,” according to Recovery.org.
We dehumanize, demonize and criminalize addicts, whether we realize it or not — and then we completely trivialize addiction. All to metaphorically say we love something. It’s absurd!
Just saying you love something a lot works perfectly fine — better actually. Sure, a metaphor might not seem that serious, but at the end of the day, there’s a bigger picture.
4. Common Sense.
I remember being young and not always understanding things my mother would tell me. When that happened, she would reply, “Duh! Common sense!” It took me a long time to realize there was anything wrong with phrase because I’d learned it at such a young age. However, when you examine the idea further, you’ll slowly but surely recognize why it’s ableist.
The concept of common sense implies that there is a “minimum requirement” to be seen as smart or even worth talking to. Tumblr user Dyspraspie put it best by saying, “If you assume someone’s mind works in a very similar way to your own and decide they should have found a certain task as easy as you would have, you have failed to acknowledge your neurotypical privilege.”
There is no one way that brains work. We see this concept in academia, the work world and beyond. We all experience the world differently. Much like the concept of normalcy, common sense is a fallacy. It upholds a status quo on how brains should, and shouldn’t, function.
5. Saying someone has “Problems/Issues.”
Saying this is ableist because you’re speaking on behalf of another person’s condition(s). Furthermore, you’re portraying disabilities and mental illnesses in a completely negative context. Our conditions aren’t necessarily problems or issues, and if they are, that’s for us to decide.
Saying “Angie has a condition called (insert name here)” or something of the like, works fantastically — as long as they’re out about it.
No matter who we are, we must all be critical of our words. We need to learn how to spot subliminally ableist microaggressions and subtext as we’re able to. Again, these lists aren’t comprehensive. These serve as a great primer and opener to how ableism has made its way into our everyday language, because at the end of the day — they didn’t end up there for no reason.