Having gotten another winter cold, I’ve been watching a fair bit of television and getting toned and tanned from surfing the sunny beaches of the internet. I noticed that there has been a resurgence of posts about the ‘r’ word that either decry it’s usage or offer other words to use instead. Knowing, from deeply personal experiences, how hurtful words can be, I’ve long supported the use of careful language. I have found the elimination of some words from my vocabulary has actually increased my ability to express myself. I don’t need to use words that hurt when there are a billion words that don’t.

Then I watched a series on Netflix and in it the ‘r’ word was used, as it is always used, as a pejorative, a put down. I bristled and considered watching no further. I could see that the writer was using this word as a means of showing the character of the person speaking. It was a commentary on his nature that he’d use such language. Later on in the show, the primary character speaks up and states that the ‘r’ word isn’t an okay word to use.

But all that’s just introduction.

There was a scene where a character who has an intellectual disability, is involved in helping the primary characters out of a jam. When the plan is successfully executed he said something like, “Nobody expects anything from the ‘r#tard'” as his explanatiion as to why the plan worked. He’s right of course, but, I had a very different reaction to him using the word. He used the word in reference to himself, he used it as a person with an intellectual disability. And to me, that seemed acceptable, not that anyone needs my approval or anyone’s approval to speak of themselves as they so choose.

I have never been criticized by another disabled person from using the word ‘disabled’ in reference to myself or to use it without the person first structure. Lots of non-disabled people tackle me on it. But I have always felt free to say what I want about myself and to me the words ‘cripple’ or ‘gimp’ are up for grabs – with or without your opinion.

In the context of the scene, I felt the same for the character with a disability. His mouth, his voice, his choice.

I’m not sure how you would all feel about this, but I think it’s worth talking about. Who gets to say what in the disability world – and is there a limit on choice for people with intellectual disabilities which doesn’t exist for other people with disabilities?

Thoughts?

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