Why I Won’t Use the Word “Cripple”


Lately I’ve noticed on different social media platforms that the word “cripple” in various forms is starting to get used a lot by members of the disabled community. I’ve even been involved in a few Twitter conversations myself with the word in the hashtag. The idea is to reclaim a word that’s been negatively used against the community for a long time.

The world has been often accused of being “too politically correct (PC)” today, something I strongly disagree with. I do think that with social media, it seems like someone is always unhappy with something someone else says, even when it’s seemingly harmless or completely uncontroversial. But I don’t think trying to spare people’s feelings and not unnecessarily offend anyone is ever being “too PC”.

That being said, I also disagree with the use of the word “cripple” to ever describe myself or anyone in my community. This is going to be a controversial statement I’m sure many will disagree with but here’s why I feel the way I do. I completely understand wanting to take ownership of a word that’s been used against us negatively for so long. To make it ours so it can no longer be used against us. But here’s the thing: you can’t change history. You can’t undo all those times people were called cripples by ignorant, ableist people for decades. It’s a word that was used to hurt people, to discriminate, and was even used by doctors to describe us because we were seen as imperfect or flawed, and that can never be undone. Secondly, the people likely to throw around the word cripple are ignorant, careless people. If we start using the word to describe ourselves then said people will likely take that as a free pass to keep using it themselves. They’ll say “well you say it, so why can’t I?” It’s not right, but that’s the way ignorant people tend to think.

Someone on Twitter today took the use of the word cripple one step further. They said that only physically disabled people have a right to reclaim and use the word. Mentally and people with other non-physically disabled people can’t. Right there is a huge problem with using the word, no matter the context. It creates an us vs. them environment even within our own community. We all have different struggles whether we are mentally or physically disabled but we are all fighting for the same thing: equality. Separating ourselves in such a way doesn’t do much to help the cause.

So for me, no matter how you spin it, it’s always going to be a negative word. It’s the one slur people can always use against me and have in the past. Calling myself a cripple doesn’t take that pain away no matter how much power it might give me to use the word myself. And I don’t think it takes the pain away for the countless disabled people who had to put up with being marginalized and called that over and over again for years and years.

If you look up the definition of “cripple” on dictionary.com, the second definition it gives you is “anything that is impaired or flawed.” The very meaning of the word, no matter how it’s used stands for the very thing we are all trying so hard to fight. That society sees us as flawed or as less than because of our disabilities.

We all have to deal with our individual situations in a way that makes the most sense for us so this isn’t a judgment on anyone who wants to refer to themselves as a cripple. I don’t agree with it but it’s not my place to tell someone not to if it helps them manage living with a disability.

There’s always going to be controversy and discussion about which words we should and shouldn’t be using to describe ourselves. I use disabled and I know a lot of people have issues with that. Same with able-bodied. Different people feel differently about what different words signify. “Cripple” is just one that will never be in my own personal dictionary.

photo credit: art_inthecity Étudiantes de l’école de design de l’UQAM, Corde sensible, 2017 via photopin (license)



5 thoughts on “Why I Won’t Use the Word “Cripple”

  1. I hate this word!!! It makes me think of some 80 year old with Arthritis! Good Lord! I had a friend that was in her 80’s & she used it to describe herself with…she wasn’t feeling sorry for herself by using the word,…it was just how she grew up, but still it made me wince every time she used it for herself. And she NEVER used it to describe me.

    1. It’s definitely never a good word to use in any context in my opinion. I do think the older generation was used to hearing it cause it’s how people were described even medically so they likely used it more often. I’m a tough cookie though and that’s never an excuse in my book 🙂 My uncle used it to describe himself in front of me one time and that really upset me.

  2. Hi Jackie,

    I feel the same way about the word “cripple”; it has a negative connotation because it is primarily used as a slur. It is a word that was born out of ignorance, then grew to become a word that was meant to hurt people. For me, words hold a tremendous amount of power, and the idea of reclaiming a word that has been used against you is an interesting one. I can see the appeal, but I agree that it will likely result in an “us vs. them” environment. I feel as though the word cripple will continue to have a negative connotation outside of the group that uses it, and I don’t think it will ever be benign. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the topic, it was a good read!

  3. Apologies, as this is rather out of context – but could you perhaps consider using text with greater contrast (ie. significantly darker than the page background)? I would like to read you post, but can only make out about half of the words. Perhaps this could help you reach more readers? Thanks for your time

    1. Hi Kendra. What do the colors look like on your end? I have the background set as white and the text is dark brown which are pretty contrasting but I want to make sure everyone is able to read everything.

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