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)