Words and phrases you may want to think twice about using
I’ve said this many times in many different places, but one more time with feeling, I guess. I wish we would put more energy into focusing on intent rather than language. I’m not going to say that there aren’t any decent points to be found in that article, because I’m not fully qualified to say that. But I can say with a fair degree of confidence that most disabled people aren’t so delicate that we’re going to shatter when someone uses a word as intended. We’ll go with the blindness part as an example, because nobody can argue my bona fides in that area.
Brainstorm, blindsided and blind-spot
The prefix blind is often used in metaphorical terms like blindsided, blind spot and blind leading the blind, to describe the limitation of sight.
“I can see that being offensive to people who can’t see,” said Julie Cashman, a member of the disability community and co-chair of Consumer Action Committee, which advocates for individuals with disabilities.
Using the term brainstorm could also be insensitive to those who have brain injuries or are neurodiverse, added Cashman.
“More important is the stigma that it will effectuate about … disorders [like] epilepsy for example,” said Kalra.
Wait a minute. Why is the stuff about blindness lumped in with brain injuries? What kind of assumptions are you making here? I should probably be offended. I think that’s how they’re telling me this works.
Maybe I’ll give you blind leading the blind. I never cared one way or the other, but if you want to argue that it implies incompetence, knock yourself out. But blind spot? It literally describes an area a person can’t see. In that sense I think of it more as a driving term than anything else. Blindsided is pretty much the same thing. Something you could not see coming takes you by surprise. Literal or metaphorical, those are ok. They’re descriptive and generally pretty accurate. You have to be pretty insecure with who you are to be offended by those, in my opinion.
I don’t have time to get caught up in right or wrong words. I’m too busy living my life. Please, by all means, call me blind. That’s what I am. In fact, if you would just get over this business of trying to force me to be visually impaired it would save us all a lot of time. My vision is not impaired. It doesn’t fuckin’ work. If it were impaired I would be able to see colours or lights or shadows or maybe read signs with some effort. I can do none of those things. So just let me be blind and let people understand what that means without fear that they’re somehow insulting me with reality and facts.
By the way, if you do want to insult me, tell me how I’m expected to self-identify. That works every time.
Which brings us back to intent. Someone calling me blind is fine. That person equating my blindness with being incapable of existing while knowing nothing about me is not. Passing me over for a job even though I’m clearly the most qualified applicant because your garbage company is lazy and doesn’t feel like making simple accommodations…also not ok. But language has nothing to do with that. Attitude does. If someone is intent on being closed-minded, that’s what they’re going to be. You could call me mahogany or chandelier instead of blind and it wouldn’t change a thing. You can’t outrun attitude with language. Change is not that easy. The association is always going to be there. It is what it is, no matter what you call it.
Quibbling over words doesn’t do anything but make people nervous. I’ve seen it a million times.
“What am I supposed to call you?”
“Steve is fine.”
“No no, what am I supposed to call you? Like…you know…that way.””
It starts everything off on the wrong foot and then I, the very one you’re trying to help with all these damn words, have to work even harder to right the ship.
If we ever hope to get anywhere meaningful, we have to stop scaring people with this crap.