Quick Thought on Ableism


#1

Hey Waypeeps,

On a recent episode of Waypoint Radio, Rob pointed out how Waypoint tries to not use Ableist language in the site’s content. I was really excited about this! With how much this language is ingrained in our society, it’s admirable that media creators are trying to take a stand on this.

However, on the most recent episode of Waypoint Radio (Episode 70), I heard the following words at least more than once: Dumb, lame, crazy, idiot, and stupid. I hear these words all the time, but I was kind hurt that I was still hearing these words in Waypoint content even after Rob pointed out that they don’t use it/try to use it.

I hope I don’t sound oversensitive or anything, but I just really think that the fine folks at Waypoint can do better at trying to avoid this language. I understand that it’s easier to edit these words out of written pieces as opposed to recorded content, but I still think that you all can do better. Since it’s inception, Waypoint has been a great, inclusive space for gamers that belong to underrepresented groups, so I think that it would be good to try a little harder to not use these words that could alienate potential readers/listeners.

I love the content that this site produces and am saying this because I care about Waypoint being better at using inclusive language. I hope I don’t come off like a “hater,” but I just really wanted to make sure that people took note of this. I know it can be hard to avoid these words, but I believe in Waypoint, and I can believe that Waypoint can do better.

If anyone reading this needs a refresher, here’s a few links that give a gist on ableist language and some alternatives you can use.



#2

I have to admit, avoiding words like “insane”, “crazy”, “nuts”, or calling things “psychotic” has been a pretty tough adjustment for me, and I still make mistakes. Probably a lot of them. They were always just such normal parts of language for me.

On the plus side, it makes me stop and think what I actually mean when I want to say something like that. So I end up being more descriptive/informative than I would’ve been if I had just used those other words.


#3

The best thing to do is to find newer, better words to substitute for them. It becomes natural after a while.

Like, it’s pretty embarrassing to admit this, but I used to use the word gypped, which is a slur against the Roma people. I never knew that growing up and a lot of people who used it around me probably didn’t know it either. So I found words that I could substitute for it that would be either more impactful, more expressive, or even just more fun to say. “Hosed” is my favourite example, but “ripped off”, “cheated”, or “bamboozled” were other words I used instead.

Here is a good little guide to alternatives to albeist words that I reference whenever I can’t think of a good, less problematic synonym.

Honestly, the hardest word for me to give up is “dumb” and “stupid”, mostly because I have yet to find a word that accurately describes my positive feelings on something when it is… well, not trying to be intellectual or trying to be weighty or anything like that, but revels in how ridiculous it is. Like the Fast & the Furious movies are so dumb, but I can’t help but love how earnest they are about it.


#4

If less people said “gypped” (which I also didn’t realize was a slur when I was younger and used pretty often growing up) and instead used “bamboozled” it would make me a happy person.

On the topic of ableist language: It’s been really difficult for me to drop linguistic habits, especially if I wasn’t explicitly taught they were insulting or offensive. Words like “lame” and “crazy” specifically in the context of describing people still make it into my vocabulary and I don’t like that. I would like to change that. And thinking about the context in which language is used is something I need to spend more time doing.


#5

I’ve pretty much removed these words from my speech mainly because I found it quite easy to do and I like to speak with precision, and I found it a useful exercise to get closer to what I actually mean by words.

But I do sometimes struggle with instances of (some) of these words being called out, and I think it’s probably because many of my friends who I know are, like the folks at Waypoint, fundamentally decent people use some of them and I think in certain circumstances I still waver on whether I really believe the use is inappropriate. I’m happy to used more nuanced language but I can’t call someone out on their use when I can’t explain what they are doing wrong…

…now, before I go on I will say generally the approach to slurs I’ve taken is to believe the affected people that it’s a slur and modify language accordingly, so what I’m not going for here are ‘these words are fine actually’ but I’m just digging into why I do am not settled on the words always being inappropriate so…

I have a hard time thinking it’s inaccurate to call certain actions out for being stupid or some of the other synonyms i.e. an unintelligent thing to do. And I don’t think it’s wrong to call out particularly people in positions of power or influence for doing actions which are not clever, or inaccurate to criticise such actions as stupid. Words like ‘uninformed’ or ‘ignorant’ can fit the bill but often what we’re really talking about is a lack of intelligence in action, not just not having the right information or wilfully ignoring it, and I’m not sure it really is always more precise or even helpful to step around that. So I talk about ‘not a clever thing to do’ and I say that a person in power or more normally their actions seem ‘not very smart’ but I wouldn’t call someone out for going straight for stupid, right now.

Ones which I understand a bit better but still waver on slightly are things like ‘crazy’. It’s just I think there’s a pretty common neutral way of using that word which doesn’t feel mean and even comes across positive, like when someone says something like ‘man, that game’s crazy, there’s so much going on’ and they just mean something like ‘there’s a lot of stuff happening’ which I think does nod to the original understanding of what a ‘craze’ is but without the negative connotations. It’s slightly imprecise as a way of talking and I can see why people would prefer to avoid it altogether because of the mental health connotations. I tend to use phrases like ‘pretty wild’ instead, but honestly I don’t know the history of ‘wild’ and if it’s even really any better.

Anyway, I hope I’m not coming off as callous in any of this, but those are just my thoughts on this at the moment and they’re always evolving. What I tend to focus on as of now is calling out when I think people are specifically slurring mental health or learning difficulties or similar, e.g. trying to steer people away from armchair diagnosing people, etc.


#6

I mostly agree, and my advice would be to listen to the opinions of people who are actually disabled, particularly when the word in question could be considered ablest towards them, specifically. Because ultimately, what we care about is whether the use of these words in a modern context is actually harmful.

Like, as someone who’s dealt with mental illness my whole life, it’s beyond patronizing to hear a neurotypical person try to explain to me why the word “crazy” is problematic. For perspective, it’s at least as obnoxious as straight people telling me not to use the word “queer.”


#7

Echoing this^^

neuroatypical and “dealing”(?) with it since very early childhood, was called all of these things by both peers and authority figures a whole, whole lot. I can only speak for myself(!!!) but it’s not a simple case of “these words are bad” for me anymore. The context is what hurts - not that someone wouldn’t take the time to think of unique colorful language to label me as different, but the fact that they had to label me as different in the first place. If you’re calling someone “stupid” or calling them “illogical” (that initial list in the OP is… weird in places), it means the same thing which is “this person is deficient, and inferior to me, the observer”. The solution isn’t to /just/ cut out specific words because whatever the accepted terminology takes it’s place, that becomes the slur, because for people who use it it’s not about the word itself, it’s about the comparison to a perceived invalid way of being alive

So idk. I have a lot of emotions that are hard to form a coherent point out of. But more creative language is always good for sure, and being conscious of how we describe negative stuff is really important (still struggle with it myself, of course, ESPECIALLY in irl conversations where i’m already a mess half the time), I just hope the consciousness and attention doesn’t give way to simple self-censoring, without examination of the thought patterns this stuff stems from. just my hot cake

EDIT: if i can make a more productive suggestion, we should use this thread to post and canonize good replacements for these crappy outdated words

i submit “Evil”, but to describe things that are. in fact. good
"Bullets" seems like a keeper


#8

Right. Someone going, “Oh Noelle? She’s just crazy” is 100% not okay, but “Did you see that crazy trick Noelle pulled off?” is perfectly fine. I feel like common usage of the word over time has defused its ability to be inherently harmful.


#9

Thanks for posting this, @ChronoPunk. This issue is relatively new to me and now that I’m paying attention I find it everywhere. I do what I can at work and in other conversation and am struck by how easily and unthinkingly we use these words. I’ll keep working on it; thanks for raising the topic.


#10

Again, just one disabled voice here, but due to the way words have been used against me in the past, I find “strange” or “weird” - when used for people specifically - to have a much more upsetting effect on me than some of the other words mentioned as ableisms in this thread. I think I might be an exception in this case but again, please remember we are not a monolith and not all of our experiences are overarching per se.

Like, in my personal experience, I also find it much more upsetting when people talk about folks who have done something bad (say, terrorists) and then say “oh you have to be cr*zy to do that”. That’s upsetting to me. Using the same word to describe something amazing or unbelievable is much less upsetting because of the lack of negative connotations.

I think in general it’s a good practice to try to omit ableisms from your speech, but don’t talk over actually disabled folks when they’re trying to tell their stories and preferences :smiley:


#11

With the direction this thread went, one thing I wanna kind of echo from earlier is that the common usage of these words ultimately leaves you saying nothing of value. “That was crazy/insane” is so vague and nondescriptive, even Austin’s “that’s bullets” joke on Breakfast & Battlegrounds is a better alternative.


#12

I’ll be brutally honest, as someone who’s grown up in and still lives in England as an autistic bloke, who knows and speaks to lots of people defined by words on that list in the OP: There is a lot of bollocks to be found in this attitude. I don’t mean that as in the thought behind the whole thing as a concept isn’t 100% valid. That introductory stuff was very succinct in explaining a lot of what’s important about the use of language in regards to a lot of other subjects, but the examples given? It comes across as madness. Which is almost certainly on that list somewhere.

This also isn’t to suggest that that there aren’t valid words in the list, but you’d have to be a very specific type of person to get so far as to want to read this thread and still use “Autistic” as an insult.

But a lot of the words suggested are academic terms, which, and I mentioned in the Queer thread, you absolutely cannot assign a social faux-pas to, because that assigns a faux-pas to the condition. If you decide that you can’t use “blind” as an adjective, the result isn’t a safe environment for blind people, it’s the opposite. It becomes something that shouldn’t be mentioned, that people cringe at automatically when it is. And the result of that is that people who ARE blind are treated the same. And it absolutely can’t be compared to the Autistic example, because it has semantic connotations beyond physical ones built up over hundreds of years of use. There’s nothing that someone would use autistic as an adjective for that could use any variation of “dumb” “stupid” etc for. Because people that use “autistic” as an insult think that that’s what it is, they know that autism is a condition, but they think it just means “you’re stupid and can’t help it”, so using it as a synonym re-enforces that. It’s more complex than blindness and being reductive is harmful.

And as for the aforementioned “dumb”, “stupid” etc, those are the ones I find genuinely hilarious. If neither the person using the word, or anyone hearing them use it, knows of its outdated meanings from literally millennia ago, then those meanings, to all intents and purposes, do not exist. Meaning is defined by understanding, not some eldritch dictionary that decrees meaning beyond what we actually know we are saying. “Dumb” has no direct association with autism to a 99% of the population of earth, and frankly I’d rather it stayed that way, so I can continue endearingly calling my cat a dumbass for only drinking water when I hold the bowl up to his face for a bit.

Honestly, I feel like for most of those words, nobody should have to explain why them being on that list is so ridiculous. It should be obvious, but generally folk that don’t fall into any of the groups defined by words on that list feel entitled to be among those people, and evidently the easiest way to do that is to find old outdated meanings for words and claim that those meanings still apply, so they can act like they’re knowledgeable on the subject when they’ve basically just bullshitted their way into a place they weren’t wanted.

And people get fooled by this stuff, there’s a reason channers and the like are constantly using fake “SJW” accounts to convince people that innocuous stuff is “problematic”. It works. People are often stupid. And you know exactly what I mean by that because “stupid” doesn’t have the connotations that list says it does. And from the people that get fooled by that stuff, it slips into academia, where it stops just being a few people being strangely conservative about language, to people with power trying to police the language of people below them.

If you are trying to keep an eye on your use of language though, and you 100% should be, draw your own conclusions based on how words are used NOW, not what their definitions used to be. There’s value in knowing where words came from, and how means have changed, but not in determining how you use your language right now. Ask yourself if using a word is going to be hurtful to the specific person or people that you’re talking to, and if you don’t know, there’s no harm in asking. Don’t put too much thought into old meanings.

(I spent a long time writing this out so I hope it doesn’t come across as confrontational, I’m just very sceptical of stuff like this since I’m from England, so if I were to make changes to my language based just on that list, I’d sound an awful lot like the fucking queen)


#13

I’ve heard it said that one problem is that people use a disease as a metaphor and that demonizes the state of having that disease further. The term I’m really curious about is “myopic”. The only alternative I can think of is “near-sighted” which is the same thing. I need a term for the tendency of folks to prioritize short-term gains that they can see the results of clearly when there are significant losses for those outside of their sphere of perception in the short and long-term.


#14

Being short sighted I must say it never even occured to me that ‘short-sighted’ as a metaphor for not thinking very far ahead into the future was demonising of short-sightedness itself. I’m sure I use it quite a lot.

I think this is where we need to listen to the affected to see where harm is actually occurring. I don’t for a moment think that anyone describing an action as ‘short-sighted’ is even by association causing anyone to think worse of short-sighted people. It seems like a very clear metaphor to me, a substitution of difficulty in seeing objects at a distance to difficulty in seeing consequences - and wouldn’t even make sense as a demonisation of short-sighted people. I don’t think that there’s any reason to think that short-sighted people’s lives would be made worse by people continuing to use the term. I’m pretty sure there’s been no real conflation of short-sighted as metaphor and the literal condition.

If I want to discourage people from using a term, then I feel like I at least have to understand the harm being caused, and as a few people have pointed out, that best comes from the affected (who of course might not all agree).


#15

I hear you on this, but it would still be nice to have a better term for it if anyone happens to think of one.


#16
  1. Can you describe what signifies an “academic term” because it seems like a qualification you just made up to give these words a false air of authority or value.
  2. Nobody is suggesting that these terms are bad because of their historical connotations, the suggestion is that they’re bad because they hurt people’s feelings (unless you’re going to call those people liars, there’s not much to debate about this.
  3. I agree that language is about conveying meaning! Here’s my question; if the goal is to convey “I think this thing is bad,” you can use a term that conveys that thought, or a term that conveys that thought and hurts another person’s feelings. If you opt for the latter, you’re an asshole, regardless of other “”“academic”"" considerations.

#17

Just a side note, as I’d prefer to mostly be an observer of this kind of debate (I’m mostly neurotypical), but specifically on the topic of words that are “academic” or “scientific”: frankly, words used in a technical setting doesn’t carry anymore weight than regular words. They’re still names affixed to ideas or objects, and are as easily discarded by the fashion of the times as any other word. There’s nothing inherent to a “academic” term that protects it from revision.

For example, not a medical field, but B.C. (Before Christ) used to be very common in academia, but that didn’t save it from being reconsidered for B.C.E. (Before Common Era) since the very purpose of academia is to keep knowledge up to date, and that includes what is considered acceptable language in public discourse and what is in a name.

Another example is that in studies of the Far East, whether history, sociology, or other similar fields, in the 80’s it was acceptable and considered entirely fine to use “Oriental” and many would even self-describe as “Orientalists”. That is no longer the case, and academia has largely abandoned that word, outside some stubborn people or young students reading too many old books.

Suffice to say, regardless of one’s feelings on a word, I don’t think an argument should be put forth that a term is or isn’t OK purely on the basis that it was used in academics at one point in time. The history of literature in the style of European style Academia is long and white people have had plenty of time to use all sorts of awful words in that history, or to fill an initially neutral word with all sorts of baggage through lay use.

EDIT:
additional aside, I think the probable reason “blind” and “short-sighted” don’t feel bad (to most?) is simply that when those terms are used, they aren’t used in the sense that the action is something a person with that condition would do, and thus foolish. Rather, they’re just metaphors to describe the action itself? Like, it isn’t about the capability of a group of people.
Whereas I imagine the origins of saying “that’s insane” to someone very much came from literally thinking their line of action is like something a person who is insane would do, and thus foolish or ridiculous.


#18

Regarding the history part, I think they are referring to some of the reasoning and inclusion of archaic terms for disabilities that are listed in the article that mentioned in the OP.

I can’t speak for CaptainMorton’s sense of what makes a term academic, but for me I think that terms like “blind” are useful in describing specific lacks of ability in order to address the concerns particular to that lack of assumed ability.
Also, I want to mention that recently I defended the use of a term that I have always understood to mean “inhibited growth” in reference to public policy and I was surprised that the folks in that particular space were offended or hurt by any use of it. Luckily they accepted my confusion as sincere and I can now just use “inhibited growth” when necessary.


#19

Everyone here is being very aneurotypical. A bunch of folks with real inhibited growth.

Intention matters. We can create new words that don’t have mean connotations, but that doesn’t stop people from weaponizing the new words. If someone means wrong by what they are saying, I think that ways more heavily than the words used themselves.

Let’s take gypped. Of the people I’ve confronted on this word, no one knew it was a related to gypsy, which itself is an exonym which appears to have recently be deemed an inappropriate name for the Romani. This is a part of language that there is very little cognitive issue with changing once its etymology is discovered.

Let’s look at stupid. Comes from latin, to be amazed or stunned. It appears to have always meant to describe something as having less merit, being of low intelligence. This word works as a negative perfectly. I guess idiot has some archaic connotations with mental handicap, but I don’t think that has been in common use for years. I certainly haven’t seen it used by people I work with outside of berating each other for not knowing some detail about a procedure.

If the goal is to only ever use positive language for everything, that’s really noble. If the goal is to find only incredibly socially conscious ways to berate people, well, bless your heart.


#20
  1. By academic term I mean you can be officially diagnosed as “blind” and “autistic”, it’s on official documents as the term used in academia of all types, not just language analysis. The terms you find on your medical records, essentially. Terms that, devoid of context, are specific in their written definition and devoid of bias. Context is monumentally important, obviously, but in a professional environment you need the extra clarity. Like @tctc said, you have to analyse these terms as much as anything else, usually to exhume bias, the B.C example was changed to remove religion from scientific discussion, and Oriental because it was derived from an existing Latin word in regards to decoration, which suggested that “oriental” things and people were simply decorations, which obviously couldn’t be used without accepting and normalising that.
  2. Because usually when the people who find the terms hurtful are in the minority, and a lot of those people are hurt by those words because they’ve been told they should be, not because the people using them are actually doing so to hurt them, or even from actual experiences. The response is real, and I’ve no intention of downplaying that, but it’s also a response that has been wrongly taught as a form of oppression, not because the people using the word mean what these people fear they mean. Which kinda leads into the next bit.
  3. That’s a personal situation, no matter the global politics of any words, respect for another person is still more important, so if someone has personal aversion to a word like that then you don’t use it. It doesn’t mean that in a broader sense that the word is invalidated by that one person’s personal experience. And if I only know one person affected in that way by a word, I’m unlikely to stop using it when they aren’t around, as a permanent change to my own vocabulary.