Linguistics of disability

the debate on how the disabled are or should be referred to often comes up on the ouch messageboards. the debate interests me. just how should we be defined. of course, it depends in part on weather we are a specific sub-group – is there a “we”, or are the disabled merely a set of unrelated humanns with some physical quirks?

The answer, I think, lies domewhere in the middle. Essentially I am no more ‘related’ to another disabled person than I am to eminem – we have different views, diffrent likings and diffrent political stances – yet, o the other hand, all disabled people share certain things: the special school system, frustrations at restrictive beurocraccy, a hatred of steps (especially the blond welsh one).

therefore, given that we are indeed a social subgroup, how are we defined? people who wear black and llisten to thrash metal are usually called “goths”; people who wear socks outside their platic trousers and baseball caps are called “scallies”, although “2complete retards” seems more accurate; so what is the collective term for isabled people?

I often refer to myself as “cripple” or “spastic”: these are derogetory terms which, rather like the term “nigger” in americcan culture, we have claimed for ourselves. they are postmodern terms, used for ironic purposes. Yet were anyone to refer to me as a spastic – that is, anyone other than my close friends and family – I would find it extremely offensive, just as a black person would take offense were I to call him a nigger. Jackie chan illustrates this very point in “rush hour”.

We can therefore see how this debate is so diifficult. euphomisms like “the ddisabled” and “the physically challanged” smack of the medical model, which attempts to treat us like hospital patients; South Park clearly illustrated how “the crips” is already taken; “spastic” reminds me of the 1970s andd is too derogiterry.

Whatevver the word, there will be problems with it, so why dont we just call all bets off. shakespeare wrote “a rose by any other name would’st smell as sweet”, so does it matter wht we are called? I think not. we are disabled, and we are proud!

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