How To Talk To A Cripple

Got your attention, didn't I? 

Do you find that directive offensive, because I sure do. Although most of you are bristling at the word "cripple"  I find the idea that we need a separate set of instructions to talk to someone who is handicapped utterly off-putting and exclusionary.

Now I know that some of my fellow disabled bloggers disagree with me about this - and I mean you no disrespect, my friends. But there's something about seeing a long list of "special rules" and "correct labels" touted as guides to interacting with the disabled that irritates the crap out of me.

Here are just a few examples of what I'm talking about: 

Offensive Preferred
birth defect Person who is disabled since birth, born with a congenital disability
cerebral palsied Person who has cerebral palsy
cripple Person who needs mobility assistance
deaf and dumb, deaf mute Person who is deaf and does not speak
deformed Person who has a physical disability
emotionally disturbed Person with an emotional disability
handicapped Person with a disability
hunchbacked Person with a spinal curvature
insane, deranged, deviant Person with a mental illness
midget, dwarf Person who is small in stature
Mongoloid Person who has Down Syndrome
Normal Non-disabled, able-bodied
Retarded Person with a cognitive disability
Wheelchair bound, confined to a wheelchair Person who uses a wheelchair
*Source: Illinois DHS

My loyal fans know that I refer to myself as brain damaged, crippled, palsied, and a spaz interchangeably. Please note that I don't refer to other disabled individuals with such familiarity, but I don't walk on politically correct eggshells when talking to or about them, either. My level of comfort with said pejoratives is rather extreme and I spend the bulk of my time in public making people question their perceptions when it comes to disability. But, I have to tell, you our social level of verbal compensation in coming up with adequate adjectives to describe disabilities borders on ridiculous. If you have fair skin do I have to refer to you as a "person with a tanning disorder"? How about if you have no tact, are you then a "person who has no social filter"?

Wait, that really is me; moving right along. 

I think the last straw for me was reading how offended I'm supposed to be if someone says I'm "confined to a wheelchair/crutch use/mobility device use" because "Most people who use a wheelchair or mobility devices do not regard them as confining. They are viewed as liberating; a means of getting around." 

It is true there are disabled-centric phrases that make me wince when I hear or read them, like "you are differently-abled", "isn't it just great that you're out living your life" or my personal favorite, "you're such an inspiration". We are ALL differently abled, they do allow us cripples out and about these days, and unless I've been the catalyst causing you to dress better or actually do something positive with your life, I haven't been much of an inspiration to you at all. I've discussed that last one in a previous blog post.

In most cases I tend to try to read between the lines to try and discern whether the comment is well-meaning or patronizing. Which brings me to the point of this post. We need to worry less about the offensive value of the labels we hang on specific groups and more about talking to people as individuals. 

Let's face it, the art of relating to each other one-to-one is dying a slow, painful death. Modern technology is partially to blame. We hide behind the safety of a computer screen and say the most inappropriate, unauthentic, inaccurate, often just plain mean things on "social" media. It's okay, though, because your cyber-alter-ego needs pumping, or stroking, or feeding, or whatever you think you get out of 'net wordfare. As if that wasn't bad enough, our phones are becoming portable social shields. We bury our heads in our texts or Facebook wall instead of bothering to talk to the people around us. 

We have become a culture of rude, thin-skinned, attention deficient people who don't even try to move towards easier real-time interactions with others. It's time to stop getting your lingo cues from a website and start getting them from questions raised in genuine dialogues with people who can provide you with honest answers. 

A special note for all you cripples out there. You're going to have to meet people halfway - and sometimes beyond - when they make an effort to engage in conversation with you. It's your responsibility to do all you can to help them see the person and not the disability. Cut people some slack. Show them the right way to talk to you, and show them you're worth talking to. Because the title of this post should be "How To Talk To A Person". When we become people in the eyes of others (and they in ours) we can start to build relationships on many levels based on who we are, not what we are.

Oh, and if you're still stuck on the fact that I used the "C" word then you've missed the bus. 

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