The majority of this post was written back in December when the incident mentioned happened and has been sitting in my drafts folder until I finished it this evening. Apologies if this doesn’t flow properly as a result.
Cripple This term is from old English, meaning to creep or to be inferior. It has so many negative connotations that you will rarely hear it used. It is also associated with mawkish sentimentality about “poor crippled children”.
Don’t be surprised if you hear the term cripples or crips being used by a group of (mainly younger) disabled people, it is part of taking back offensive terms.
The above is a quote from a CAB training document on language and disability I read a while back. The emphasis, however, is mine.
Reading that was a huge moment for me. It really pleased me and made me think “yes!”.
The idea of taking back language is important to me. Taking back language simply means using the words which are meant to hurt us and stopping the hurt – owning the language because if you use it yourself it can’t hurt you. Words only become negative when people use them to hurt and to cause pain – which is something they do deliberate and because they want to hurt (or in some cases due to fear of what they don’t understand). If I use them so they become positive they no longer hurt me.
I’ve been trying to find a definition or page on the idea of taking back language but haven’t found anything that’s exactly what I wanted. The closest I could find was this page. But it’s not what I want, it’s not what I need.
Here is a quote from that page. It’s another one that really made me go “Yes!”
I guess I’m so tired of listening to all of our bickering on what name should define us. In the end I always want to shout, “OK, we are all different. Let us get on with it!” I know, this is really simplistic. And easy for me to demand that we just all agree on one term, transform this one term into a source of pride, and move on. I see the emerging disability culture and movement as very similar to the civil rights movement. The word ‘Black’ became acceptable when it was used as a word of beauty and power. I think the same can be done with the word ‘Disability’. And it will stop being negative, and become a word of power and beauty if we all agree to use it- together.
Back in December, for various reasons which had all of us whispering “this is so wrong…” and made me giggle rather a lot (but which I suspect would get me lynched by the disability community as a whole if I shared them here) we stuck Geri (my brother’s long standing girlfriend) in one of my spare wheelchairs and took her around Oxford and to the theatre in it. She stayed in it almost all evening.
She’d never used a wheelchair before and she didn’t know how to push it… so Soph got that job (mum was helping me). I also suspect that I am the first wheelchair user she’s properly known but who actually knows? not me.
On the way home one of Geri’s comments was “no offense Emma but I didn’t realise how hard it is to be in a wheelchair, it was uncomfortable, I couldn’t move.” or words to that affect.
It should also be noted that she got to experience what happens when the wheelchair platform lift breaks with you on it… and how they get you out of the theatre when the lift is broken. And she also got to experience a good friend coming up to her and being all concerned what’s wrong why the chair sort of thing… and being called a bitch by the friend when she did find out why the chair (because my wheelchair using friend who should have come with us was sick and we couldn’t change it but didn’t want to waste the ticket so told Geri should could come if she played the part of fake a crip).
The staff members who helped us get out commented that they could tell I’d been before because everyone else asked loads of questions about the ramp they put down to push us up the stairs and looked scared and complained about how ridiculous it was. My only question was “are you sure you can’t get the fire brigade to carry me up?” and to try to convince the girl of the merits of fit firemen coming. They laughed and said no I said “lets get on with it.” “you’ve done this before” she says.
The whole evening for me just made me want to stop and go “Yes!” Because they didn’t get it properly. But they got it a lot more than they had before. And that makes me truly happy. It is hard to be in a wheelchair. And you can’t just get up and walk away. But equally it’s not hard. Because it’s all I’ve ever known. However it did me good for Geri and others to see the truth to it – that it is no big deal but that its not always easy.
It was sort of hard for me to hear her say that being in the chair wasn’t easy. And part of me was like “why is she stating the bleeding obvious?!” But it was also truly empowering.