Things ableists say – or some disability no-nos and how to address them

As a disability advocate – and a Disabled person – I come up against some pretty unhelpful comments at times. This is a list of basically big no-nos and why they are really not OK.

One which is a total doozy is who someone has a visible disability (such as a wheelchair user) gets told by some well-meaning person that ‘I will pray for you.’ Big ugh to that. It assumes firstly that the person WANTS to be prayed about, regardless of whether they are religious or not and also that people with disability are in need of prayer. Would these people say to a narcissist ‘I will pray that you stop being a asshole’ or for a person who is arrogant ‘I will pray that you stop being a dick’. It is an insult and really not at all helpful.

Another one which I think most Disabled people struggle with is ‘inspiration porn’. This is a term coined by the late great Stella Young and refers to when Disabled people are considered inspiration for doing everyday stuff. I once had someone tell me I was an inspiration because I take the bus!  That is not inspirational, it is just how I get to work! The worst thing with this is how pervasive it is. I have given talks and spoken about inspiration porn only to have attendees come up to me afterwards and tell me how inspirational I am! Ugh!

There are some autism-specific ones as well although these probably relate to other disabilities too. A person at one of my book launches came up to me and in all honesty said ‘You don’t need to say you are autistic. You could pass for normal.’ Major ick to that!  I really, really don’t want to pass for normal, whatever that is. This is not a compliment.

The other one I get all the time is ‘Oh but we are all on the spectrum somewhere.’ No, we are not. If we were there would not be such a thing as autism it would just be called being human. This comment is very invalidating of autistic people’s experience. It is another of those well-meaning things which is not good at all.

Another one is ‘you don’t look autistic’. What the crap does autistic look like!! There is not an autistic look. We just look like people. 

People pulling me up on using identity-first language (‘I am autistic”) is also highly problematic. The way someone identified is correct and many autistic people use identity-first language. It is actually inclusive not wrong.

The ‘best’ I have ever come across was when I was at a conference a few years ago. I got talking with a bunch of neurotypical conference staff. One of them asked ‘Do you live at home with your mummy?’ I was horrified and replied that I lived in an apartment that I own and that I am paying off with the salary from my high level professional job!

None of these things are ever OK but they are sadly very common. I think the best thing to do is challenge people who they say these things. Often they come from ignorance rather than intentional hostility.   

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