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The world wasn’t designed with people with disabilities in mind. Society is inherently “ableist.” This means that the lens with which we view the world, the way that we communicate and the structures that shape society pose challenges every day most of us don’t realize for people with disabilities. As we move toward a more inclusive society, we hold ourselves accountable for being more aware of these challenges so that we can remove how we contribute to them as individuals and institutions. One way is by eliminating ableist language in our communication.

It’s important to understand that disabilities can be physical and invisible. You truly cannot tell what disability someone may have, so it’s important to become more aware of the language that we use. We perpetuate ableism every day through our language. Using disability language as metaphors like “they must be deaf,” “it’s like the blind leading the blind” and “you’re so lame” makes light of disabilities that people live with daily. In addition, making light of mental illness and symptoms of actual psychiatric conditions in phrases such as “she’s crazy,” “he’s acting bipolar” or “they are so OCD” shine a negative light on mental disability.

Ableist metaphors are heavily used in our language, so it will take time and effort to correct. Nevertheless, it is possible to change our behavior and language. Steer clear of using physical, invisible or mental disability terms lightly and metaphorically, as these terms impact the lives of real people every day. Be more accurate in your descriptions. Instead of calling someone “lame,” identify the specific issue that you are displeased with and approach the challenge with more accuracy and maturity. That same approach can be applied to almost all uses of ableist words and phrases.

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