Here’s my ironic approach, then. Write an entry for Blogging Against Disablism 2007 in which I blatantly put on display a whole slew of disgracefully disablist words. Shocking though they are — and hopefully you are all nodding vigorously in agreement and thinking to yourself that you wouldn’t dare use such phrases even in private, let alone in public — the irony is that, some seven years into the 21st century, if I wanted to post these discriminatory or just plain offensive terms to my site in all seriousness, I could probably still get away with it. The same would most likely not be true if I placed racist, sexist, homophobic or ageist words here. Double standards, anyone?
I’m nothing if not obvious. As with so much of my thinking, disablism for me is primarily about words, about language. I have always disliked the phrase ‘disability discrimination’, not for what it stands for, but because apart from the alliteration (and the sad fact is that I’m anyone’s for a bit of artful alliteration), it is so clumsy and unwieldy. Whether we like it or not, this modern media whirl thrives on jump-cuts, sound-bites and pace, pace, pace. To these ears and eyes, ‘disability discrimination’ just doesn’t cut it in that competitive arena. ‘Disablism’ does. When the disability charity Scope launched their Time to Get Equal campaign in 2004, I clearly remember thinking that the pledge to bring the word into common usage was one of its undoubted highlights — though I also remember being surprised that the term didn’t already exist. Three years on, it still doesn’t — officially.
Disablism. We all know what it means. It doesn’t require any sort of explanation. It’s instantly recognisable and does exactly what it says on its discriminatory tin. Yet reach for your nearest dictionary, flick through to the D-words and, chances are, you won’t find ‘Disablism’ listed on its pages. More double standards, anyone?
Many of you reading this site will know that in the middle of last year I became physically disabled when I gained a prosthetic limb and lost half my right leg. I think I’ve got that in the right order, but the past eleven months have gone by in something of a blur so I’m still not entirely sure. Throughout my life, I have also been affected by minor mental health problems (though I use that phrase through griitted teeth since it’s another one that I loathe, but at least it’s vastly preferable to ‘issues’). Neither of these mean that I expect to be constantly referred to in the most politically correct terms. Not at all. However, what is vitally important is that the language I choose to use about myself and with others is a highly personal decision. It’s a question of choice. My choice.
As a disabled person, my approach to terms that many might find offensive is as follows. God help me, but I have a sense of humour. Frequently, that sense of humour lapses into bad taste. If you know me, understand me, respect me, if we laugh at the same ideas and situations, you will quickly come to realise that I can and do make jokes at the expense of my impairments. Then, and only then, you can jokingly refer to me as Peg Leg, Hopalong, Jake the Peg, Speedy Gonzalez, a hobbler, a wobbler, a cyborg or a lurcher. (Well, now I come to think of it, I might draw the line at lurcher, but only because this is Blogging Against Disablism, not Doggism, and thus has nothing to do with canine breeds.) You can call me a nutter, mad, loopy, a loony or, if you really want, a miserable git and a morose sod — and indeed, in the past I have shared such dubious and allegedly hilarious terms with many similarly tragically afflicted friends and confidants, all of whom have experienced the Looming Dark Clouds or the distant howling of the Black Dog, as we have wept into our warm pints of beer and sung along wearily to Joy Division records.
Yet in all these cases, there must be that implicit agreement, that understanding. We need to have that common ground in our frames of reference. If I am nervously walking along the street on my currently still ‘locked’ prosthetic limb and crutches and I happen to overhear a complete stranger comically refer to me as Hopalong or do an oh-so-amusing Long John Silver impression, I may well be tempted to show them just how sturdy this right leg can be as I launch the solid metallic and plastic knee firmly at their crotch. Harsh but fair, I think. Don’t you agree?
Only friends, acquaintances and those who share both my sense of humour and my slow but steady progress towards living with my newly-acquired disability get to call my prosthetic limb by its pet name. Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to Lurch.