What You Said, What You Meant To Say

People use disablist language all the time and oftentimes don’t even realize it. I, personally, am hurt when people use the word lame to talk about something they don’t like – because that is me – I am lame (sometimes) and I am someone’s reference point for something unlikeable.

Here are some of the more common disablist words that people tend to use. Think about the language that you use and how it work to reinforce negative views of disabled people and work to change it.

For a discussion about why I now use the term disablism rather than ableism, click here.

What You Said What You Meant to Say Origin, and other tid-bits
Blind Careless; ignorant; insensitive; oblivious; rash; thoughtless; unaware;
Confined to a wheelchair Wheelchair user. This implies that wheelchairs imprison people which is far from the truth. Wheelchairs help people get around and are libratory rather than confining.
Crazy Batty; bizarre; busy; chaotic; erratic; intense; odd; ridiculous; strange; weird. Actually people who are described as crazy are usually people who deviate from social norms, are marginalized and/or who see hear or experiences things others don’t.
Cretin Obnoxious; clown; creep; loser From the French meaning “dwarfed and
deformed idiot”
Crip[ple] Disabled; break; hurt; immobilize, incapacitate; sideline; undermine “Crip” has been reclaimed by some disabled people and is used with pride. Used by non-disabled people, it is offensive.The word “cripple” as a verb, means to break or make unworkable and is always offensive.
Crutch Prop; need; support Something you are dependent on and cannot get by without. It has a negative connotation when used this way but crutches are not negative in the lives of the people who use them.
Deaf Not listening; oblivious; obstinate; pigheaded; stubborn; unhearing Cultural group.
Disable[ed] Break; bust; damage; destroy; disarm; hurt; mar; ruin; sabotage To make unable to move or act, to render inoperative.
Dumb Bad; defective; inadequate; ineffective; ridiculous.  Non-speaking.
Duh Hello; as if; what? Allegedly, this is the sound people with
intellectual disabilities make.
Gimp disabled This word has been reclaimed by some physically disabled people (much more in Canada than in the United States by my observation).
Handicapped disabled In game play, this is an advantage (i.e. spotting points) given to one of the players to equalize the odds as they are unable to win on their own. Some people believe that this term was applied because people on the streets were pan-handling with their caps in hand.
Insane Batty; bizarre; busy; chaotic; erratic; intense; odd; outlandish; ridiculous; strange; weird. The origin of sane is healthy, so insane means unhealthy.
Lame Bad; boring; cheesy; faulty; inadequate; inefficient; insufficient; unconvincing; unpersuasive; unpleasing Derogatory term for physically disabled,
particularly referring to one’s gait.
Moron(ic) Absurd; haphazard; nerd; loser; ridiculous; screw up The psychological term refers to one who has a mild intellectual disability.
From Greek for foolish.
Needy Deprived; demanding; high-maintenance; lacking; Everyone is interdependent. Rugged individualism is just another way of saying that someone doesn’t recognize their support network.
This word should not exist because it puts those who acknowledge and vocalize their needs into a negative context. Negative term for someone who ‘wants too much.’
Nuts Batty; bizarre; busy; chaotic; erratic; intense; weird
Psycho Batty; bizarre; busy; chaotic; erratic; intense; weird; wild Short for psychopath.
Paralyze Daze; debilitate; freeze; halt; incapacitate; numb; petrify; stun.
Retard[ed] Ass; blockhead; dork; loser; nerd; shithead. The origin is slow, or late (tardy).
Schizo Scattered; all over the place Short for schizophrenic.
Sick Bad; disgusting; displeasing; revolting; gross; sadistic Also, sick is being used to mean something positive now.
Slow Intellectually disabled
Spaz all over the place; Batty; clumsy; everywhere at once; energetic; goofy;
hyper; inept; squirrelly
From the word spastic or spasm.

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In-text links on this page:

Disablism or Ableism?