There is a word I have never heard used outside the disability community. I haven’t heard it used by service providers, or by parents, or by politicians outside here in the real world where I sit and type this. It’s a shadow word that exists within and is used to describe a phenomenon known to every disabled person alive. It’s a word that we use to telegraph to one another an understanding and a sense of community. It’s gives voice to our reality.

And I’ve never heard it spoken.

Or used in a sentence that wasn’t typed.

I’ve read it. I’ve said it myself and have experienced the uncomfortable nods of those listening. It’s like using a word that asks people to believe in a phenomenon that they dismiss and excuse. The few outsiders that know the word, often suggest that it comes out of a false sense of reality which arises from disabled people playing victim.

The word?

Ableism

or

Disphobia. Another word that I particularly like.

I’ve heard thousands of keynote speeches at conferences about disability from non-disabled experts, and I’ve never heard the word.

I’ve been at hundreds of meetings where the issue of neighbours not wanting disabled people to live next door and I’ve never heard the word.

I’ve been at countless meetings about people with disabilities being bullied and teased and socially brutalized and I’ve never heard the word.

Unless I say it.

The typical response is a brief, annoyed, nod and then a let’s move on to the problem of winning over the hearts and minds of others.

You know another word I never hear?

Bigots.

Neighbours who don’t want neighbours, people who bully others because of who they are, people who target for exploitation others based on an aspect of their being, are all seen not as bigots but as people who need education.

I hear the word education a lot.

I hear the assumption is that people with disabilities are so damn different that it’s understandable that they would be treated horribly by those untrained in recognizing human characteristics in the different. They have the ready excuse, “I’m sorry I beat that disabled dude to death, but you see, I haven’t been trained.”

Ableism.

Disphobia.

Bigots.

Bigotry.

Those are the words we need to use. We need to push at the boundary created by the screen in front of us. The word must leave the tips of the fingers used to type them and enter into our vocabulary of spoken words. We need to write letters, makes statements that call out ableism. We need to chastize new reports that cover crimes and abuse of people with disabilities when they don’t recognize what they are covering, when the don’t use the vocabulary of our oppression.

I want to hear that word and those words used this year.

In a news report.

Spoken out loud.

I want the experience that we have as disabled people to enter into the vocabulary of those who are paid to support us, those that are paid to report the news, those that document our lives, those that stand at the podium and speak about our lives.

I know that we all use it.

I know that we all say it.

But it’s time to get the word, and those words, out of our circle and into active circulation.

Together we can do this.