Language has such great power such it has the potential of bringing people together in addition to enriching their relationships. However, language can also isolate people who do not speak it properly. Effective use of language and proper word choice allows people to communicate an exact idea from a person to the other or a group of people (Storey, 2007). A language that is unpleasant to people is likely to affect their way of life. Having this in mind, people within the society should pay close attention to words they use in communication before using them, whether in their daily life or an individual’s professional life. Example of such a word is insane. Insane is the most commonly used word in identification as well as bias and discrimination against persons with disabilities. The word insane in commonly used to refer to women competing for political seats. They considered incompetent and lesser human beings as compared to their male counterparts and equality is disregarded. As such, the word insane is used to discriminate women based on gender.
Ableism is the general segregation and oppression of those with a disability, in most cases displayed and reinforced through language. Ableist language can as well be referred to as a language that is offensive, insulting, or undesirable about disability. It leads to a kind of discrimination that has been made normal in our current society. It favors able-bodied individuals in its definition of ableism as discrimination though it is more than that. The root of ableism is society’s lack of understanding of what people with disabilities go through. People may not be having the intention of hurting others when they unknowingly use ableist words. However, it will hurt people anyway. An example of such a word is insane. Insane is the most commonly used word in identification as well as bias and discrimination against persons with disabilities.
According to Eli Clare (1999), an ableist society is associated with social, cultural, and economic subjugation of people with disabilities. It is designed in a way such that it favors people with normative bodies. Disabled people, thus, face high levels of marginalization, stigma, and poverty propagated by medical bodies. Examples of the ableist society include language-“retarded,” and the society failing to build physical structures that accommodate people with disabilities (Clare, 1999). Ableist society victimizes bodies that are outside the able-bodied privilege. Persons with disabilities not given positions of power are not even given the ability to lead themselves. Institutional discrimination, inequitable legislation; restrictive school and work environment all lead to a social context of disability
The word insane, resonates with my personal history, having experienced being called this word. Throughout high school, I was constantly labeled “insane” for having decided to choose the academic stream of a subject, with having been enrolled in the applied stream for the majority of my school years. When I did so, most of my fellow students thought I was not in my right senses. The decision to switch to an academic stream stemmed from having been made aware of the importance of a greater chance of acceptance at university. Therefore, despite the discouragement I received from others, I persisted in the academic stream, which has allowed me to study at university. However, it did not come without hardships in that; I struggled to push through the discouragement I received from others even though I knew I was making the right decision for my future. Being able to fight through my high school years became a learning experience for me too.
The word insane is mostly used in our everyday speech, either as a throwaway adjective or even as an insult (Taylor, 2016). However, it should be noted that it can be hurtful to persons living with mental illness. Similarly, the phrase retarded cannot be used as a synonym for ridiculousness. Using this kind of ableist language sends the message that it is acceptable to belittle psychological disorder. It should also be noted that subtle discrimination can affect a person’s self-esteem. Most of these ableist words began as health descriptions for people with disabilities, categorizing them as lesser humans (Wolbring, 2008). However, the term’s clinical origin does not mean that they are appropriate. The words are strong insults against people with disabilities. They are offensive words that should not be used. Ableist words deliberately or unintentionally target people that are abled differently.
Moreover, it is designed to privilege normative bodies. People with disabilities have been facing high levels of violence and ostracism and stigma, often propagated by medical institutions. They also face description when it comes to getting power positions since they don’t have equal opportunities as the able-bodied people. They tend to believe that, since society has labeled them a “disability,” they are deprived of the ability to lead themselves despite being experienced. They are also victimized based on physical structures of the society that has been built not to accommodate people with disabilities.
In conclusion, an ugly word reflects ugly feelings. I think it is an easy way to miss the mark to an incredibly dangerous extent. The extent of which such language perpetuates the negative and disempowering views of disabled people. Aware of how it can be desensitizing to those with mental and psychiatric disabilities not only with the word that I have a personal history with, but the other words have given me a new perspective on the language I use. That is not only to those close to me but with everyone I encounter with. Thus, developing an understanding of ableist language is important in furthering effective communication (Hehir, 2002). It plays a key role in contributing to the prevention of negative talks towards persons with disabilities. Using ableist terms indicates that disabled people are not valued in addition to being disrespected. Therefore, ableist language should not be tolerated whatsoever. It has adverse effects on the lives of disabled people. Thus, it is important to put every effort into avoiding the use of the ableist language. If used by mistake, correction should be made, and an apology made without hesitation.
Clare, E. (1999). Freaks and queers. Gender and Women’s Studies in Canada, 145.
Hehir, T. (2002). Eliminating ableism in education. Harvard educational review, 72(1), 1-33.
Storey, K. (2007). Combating ableism in schools. Preventing school failure: Alternative education for children and youth, 52(1), 56-58.
Taylor, J. (2016). If You Care About Mental Illness, It’s Time to Stop Saying “Crazy” and “Insane.” Mic. Retrieved 5 March 2020, from
Wolbring, G. (2008). The politics of ableism. Development, 51(2), 252-258.