Stop Using These Ableist Body Positive Phrases Right Now!

Author John Battaglini

Posted Feb 28, 2023

Reads 3.8K

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Ableist body positive phrases are everywhere. They're in our media, they're in our jokes, and they're even in our everyday conversations. But what many people don't realize is that these seemingly harmless phrases marginalize people with disabilities. Ableism exists in the language we use, and it shows just how deeply ingrained biases and thoughts about typical abilities can be.

Words matter. They have the power to reinforce social prejudice, dehumanize and stigmatize individuals, and even institutionalize people with disabilities based on their differences. The language of ableism ranges from outright offensive comments to emotionally crippled jokes, but it all serves to ridicule and criticize those who do not fit the attitude stereotype of "normal." As disability rights advocates have been saying for decades, the way we talk about disabilities matters just as much as any other aspect of discrimination people face.

If you're passionate about this topic, try a thought experiment: You're sitting at home when a friend texts you a joke that includes an ableist slur. How would you respond? Would you let it slide because it's "just a joke"? Or would you take the time to explain why using casually spewed ableist language reinforces ableism? In this article, we'll explore common ableist body positive phrases that people continue to use without realizing their harmful effects. It's time to stop spreading ableist language and start working towards understanding and inclusion for all individuals, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.

Why Ableism Goes Beyond Just Words

It might make sense to some people that using verbally-described ableist language can have a negative impact on disabled individuals. However, ableism goes beyond just words. It encompasses the things that disabled individuals experience in their daily lives, such as discrimination and exclusion. Ableist language largely influences the way society views and treats disabled individuals.

Ableist body positive phrases are a prime example of this phenomenon. While they may seem well-intentioned, they often reinforce harmful stereotypes about disability and perpetuate the idea that disabled bodies are inherently flawed. This can lead to further marginalization and exclusion for disabled individuals who already face significant barriers in society. Therefore, it's important to recognize that ableism is not just about the words we use, but also about the actions we take and the attitudes we hold towards disabled individuals.

1. 1) It reveals our unconscious biases.

Lydia XZ Brown, a disability justice advocate, told us that ableist words and phrases are everywhere. From the media we consume to the workplace, life with family and friends, school environments and beyond. Ableism shows up in our language when we use terms like "crazy people" or make assumptions about someone's ability based on their past experiences with mental illness or psychosocial disabilities. Brown noted that removing ableism from our vocabulary requires paying attention to the ways in which we talk about traditionally considered productive behaviors and abilities.

Inaccessible infrastructures and performance evaluations based on productivity can be particularly harmful to those with invisible disabilities or who exhibit abnormal behavior. Activist Shain Neumeier added that body positivity should extend to all bodies, regardless of ability status. Recognizing our unconscious biases is the first step towards creating a more inclusive and accepting society for everyone.

2. 2) It makes us internalize harmful biases about disability.

It's common enough to hear "ableist body positive phrases" in our daily lives. But what people don't realize is that these phrases can cause harm, particularly to the disabled person or individual facing discrimination. Joke metaphors, for instance, only perpetuate harmful biases about disability depending on the context of their use. This can be especially hurtful when coming from perpetrators specifically in an imbalanced power dynamic like a work environment or friend group.

Poke Neumeier, a disability advocate mentioned how constantly confronting microaggressions like these phrases repeatedly over time can make a disabled person start feeling disrespected 100 times consecutively. It may seem insignificant, but it's important to remember that for someone facing discrimination doesn't have the same support system as those who aren't marginalized by society. So even seemingly small things like this matter and can contribute to an already difficult life experience.

3. 3) It stigmatizes already marginalized people.

According to disability activist, Allilsa Fernandez, using ableist body positive phrases can stigmatize already marginalized people. Fernandez explained that specific words such as "overcoming" and "inspirational" can distract attention from the real issue - the person's physical or mental abilities. Using such language can equate disabilities with weakness or something to be overcome, which can stigmatize people who have those disabilities.

It's important to be mindful of our language, especially when it comes to discussing marginalized communities. As Fernandez advises, instead of focusing on a person's disability, we should focus on their strengths as individuals. We should also recognize that our society's marginalization of certain groups extends beyond just physical and mental health issues; it also includes factors such as immigration policy and the current administration's policies. By being conscious of the words we use, we can help break down these stigmas and promote equality for all individuals.

Make a conscious effort to improve your vocabulary.

Make a conscious effort to improve your vocabulary, especially if you want to avoid using ableist body positive phrases. Using ableist language doesn't make you a bad person, but it can be hurtful and offensive for some individuals. Therefore, it's essential to educate yourself on the harmful impact of such phrases.

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As beginner tips, start by reading and learning from resources that explain ableism and how it affects people with disabilities. Expand your knowledge by using inclusive language guides that provide alternatives for commonly used ableist phrases. With practice, you'll be able to speak more mindfully and respectfully, creating a better environment for everyone. Remember, change starts with small efforts, so make a conscious decision to improve your vocabulary today!

1. 1) Acknowledge the disability around you.

It's important to acknowledge that disabilities exist and that they are a part of everyday life for billions of people worldwide. Professor Beth Haller teaches media studies at Towson University and emphasizes the importance of recognizing disabilities in our daily lives. Disabilities make up a significant portion of our population, and it's crucial to understand that disabled people exist just like everyone else.

Discrimination begins when we fail to recognize the presence of disability around us. A pro-tip: don't use ableist language that ends up making disabled people feel bad or feeling lucky for not having a disability. Instead, acknowledge the challenges faced by disabled individuals and work towards creating an inclusive environment. Remember, we can't fix disability, but we can fix discrimination towards those who have them.

2. 2) Learn, learn, learn.

Pro-tip: educate yourself about ableist body positive phrases. Start Fernandez, Neumeier, and Brown added that it's important to learn, learn, learn. We've picked up a lot of harmful language from the media we've consumed and the people we've met - even from families, friends, and cultures that we love. But disabled people don't stop experiencing harm just because it's deeply ingrained.

To avoid making anyone feel isolated or unwelcome, it's essential to be mindful of our language. Thankfully, there are resources put together by disabled writers that can help us unlearn ableism. Articles, books, videos, podcasts – there's a wealth of knowledge out there waiting for us to engage with it. Don't rely on others to teach you; take responsibility and do the work yourself.

3. 3) Don’t make assumptions about someone’s identity.

Don't make assumptions about someone's identity. This is a pro-tip golden rule that one must always remember when interacting with others. Back in the late 1980s and early 90s, during the AIDS epidemic, organizations began using people-first language to avoid defining people solely by their medical category.

The disability communities also sought linguistic rules to address this issue. The National Federation of the Blind preferred identity-first rule, while some deaf individuals capitalized "Deaf" to show respect for their cultural identity. However, it's important to note that language regarding disabilities is complex today. In an interview with Haller, many echoed the sentiment that clarifying questions are necessary to determine how someone prefers to be referred to, as it shows respect for their identity. So, if you're unsure about someone's identity or how they want to be referred to, don't hesitate to ask!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it OK to use inappropriate words and phrases?

No, it is not OK to use inappropriate words and phrases. It can offend others, damage your reputation, and even lead to legal consequences. Always choose your words carefully and be respectful of those around you.

How to avoid using Ableist language?

Avoid using Ableist language by being aware of words and phrases that reinforce negative stereotypes about people with disabilities, and instead use language that is respectful and inclusive.

Why do people not stop and think about language?

People often take language for granted because it comes so naturally to us. However, by taking the time to stop and think about language, we can improve our communication skills and better understand the world around us.

What are some examples of language?

Language is a system of communication that includes spoken and written forms. Examples include English, Spanish, Mandarin, French, and many others.

What is ableism and how can we tackle it?

Ableism is discrimination against people with disabilities. We can tackle it by educating ourselves and others, promoting inclusivity and accessibility, and advocating for policies that protect the rights of disabled individuals.

John Battaglini

John Battaglini

Writer at RHTB

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