The short answer to that is yes… I probably am too easily offended. But let me ask you a question.
So, you’re at the shops in a queue. There is a group of adolescent high schoolers in the queue too.
One of them says to another “Ha, you mong”.
Do you intervene? Do you explain that actually, that’s not polite?
Truth is, they know it isn’t polite. They perhaps don’t understand the magnitude of those words and how they may be received by others around them.
Today it’s harmless tomfoolery, or that word I have grown to hate… “banter”. If you look up that particular word it says “a person who is stupid, or has learning difficulties.”
You see to me…. By implying a cognitively able person has a learning disability is like saying; “...to me, a person with a learning disability has less value or purpose to live… therefore I will derive humour from that.”
What if someone says “Oops, I forgot my purse… I’m sure I was dropped on my head as a child.”
Is that appropriate? Is this insulting to those who have had a brain injury? Or is it a simple innocuous comment not intended to cause controversy.
Since having a child that sustained a severe brain injury at birth I have sort of had to re-evaluate my understanding of language.
It’s a delicate balance sometimes trying to find the balance between coming across as overly sensitive and a nuisance, or actually a good advocate for someone with a disability.
Social media has given us the term “snowflake” and there seems an army of people keen to tell people that we are now in a generation of people who are too easily offended, or get offended over everything.
Recently in the local news, someone complained about a precarious display of boxes of wine in a supermarket.
They quite rightly pointed out that a child could run and knock it and cause fatal injuries.
The comment section was as you would expect… a huge divide in opinions. One side saying that people should keep their children under control, and others arguing that actually you can’t always be 100% in control and that some children may have autism and not see the potential danger.
I commented on the post (foolishly… why don’t I just stay out of it!?) to also point out that someone using a mobility scooter or wheelchair, or indeed a pram, could experience difficulty in navigating around this.
I have had several incidents where we have gone into a supermarket and encountered nothing but continuous obstacles on our journey around the shop.
Obstacles that wouldn’t have phased someone not pushing a wheelchair.
I have on a few occasions gone to the store manager and explained that putting roll cages and constant promotional plinths in the middle of wide aisles are having a negative impact on our shopping experience.
I have then gone on to take advantage of my platform and add that it would be great if the shop could consider installing a changing places facility.
One person took an instant dislike to my comment and went on a rant telling me to "get a life" or that in their opinion there was plenty of room for a wheelchair.
I wonder how much experience this person had of navigating a wheelchair around an overstocked shop.
Many people rushed to my defense, but in spite of this, her opinion didn't shift.
I know that it makes me “that mum.” But actually, people not living our lives don’t always see the challenges.
Unless we confront these issues and bring them to people’s attention then nothing will ever change. It’s about picking our battles carefully.
I find myself constantly internalising my rage at the misuse of disabled bays.
I find myself holding my tongue when I hear someone describe someone as “demented”, “retarded” or “spastic”. Mainly through the fear of the unknown...
I don’t really want a punch in the face. But nor do I wish to hear what used to be genuine medical terms being transformed into derogatory terms used to mock and demean someone.
I remember when I was told that Amy had spasticity. Even now when I am telling someone about her condition I cringe slightly at the term.
There is actually nothing at all wrong with the term, it relates to high muscle tone.
But somehow this word has been tainted by people misusing language.
Because of the way language is used, we are always evolving terms and changing how we speak. What is now known as “cognitively impaired” used to be known as “mental retardation.”
I still find myself fumbling my words when I decide between “additional needs”, “special needs” and so on.
What is a common and friendly term for one, may be absolutely despised by another.
One thing I am often asked is “What is WRONG with her?”
On a bad day I want to say “Nothing is WRONG with her, what are you trying to say?”
But actually, most of the time the person is entirely well-intentioned and just showing an interest in my child and wanting to educate themselves.
Sure, I would prefer if they asked what her diagnosis was, but really it’s just me being protective of my child, my child who actually is how she is and is perfect.
Not wrong… which connotes… not quite right, not as good, something to be fixed.
Her disability is far from invisible and whilst she is not her diagnosis, it is a huge part of our lives.
I know now that people prefer to say “brain injury” instead of “brain damaged”, and if I ever hear someone say the latter, I cringe internally even though I know they said it that way because they don’t realise there is a better way to say it.
I’ve seen the term “brainstorm” change to “mind map” as not to offend people with epilepsy.
Personally, this one didn’t bother me… but that’s the problem… it might be okay to one person and not to another. It’s a complex issue.
Sadly, social media is a platform for everyone to air their opinion and you aren’t always going to see things that you like.
It can be quite distressing to see so much hate and ignorance without even having to leave your house.
I’ve seen people say that “autism is just naughty children”, I’ve seen people say that wheelchairs shouldn’t get priority use on buses, I’ve seen so many things that have hurt me.
Retaliating to these people makes no difference. I find that all it does is make me angrier and angrier to the point that it consumes my every thought and affects my ability to stay calm.
It is incredibly rare that someone with a strong opinion admits fault and apologises, so I am slowly learning that no, I can’t change the world.
I can’t make bad people be good.
I just have to keep my patience, and have a drop in the ocean effect… if I can make one person see disability in a different, more positive way, then I am advocating and doing my job as Amy’s mum correctly.
In some ways, it makes me want to isolate myself. If I don't go out there I can't see the harm.
By staying safely in our bubble we can't witness the cruelties of the world. I wish everyone could see things how I do.
I can see that every person deserves a chance at happiness.
I can see that a lot in the world needs to change and wish people would be inspired to do what they can to achieve this.
I wish that people saw the value in every life and how that having a disability makes you no less.
Until you are part of a minority it is easy to think that people complaining are over reacting or being unreasonable, it's easy to make snap judgements from a place of priviledge.
It’s something I think about a lot. I am fascinated by language and words.
I could happily spend hours reading a thesaurus or dictionary. I love how language evolves and changes. I love how each person has their own set of words that they use.
I also love that actually... you may not be able to say any words and yet be able to convey so much. It just saddens me to see language being used to offend others whether it is on purpose or not.
This post was never intended to be political, or cause upset or controversy. I realise it deals with some contentious issues and that everyone will have their own opinions.
But if we don't talk about things they become taboo, and the last thing we need is for disability to NOT be talked about.
We need to amp up awareness and alert others of language and the impact it can have on others, as well as the more physical barriers in the world.
I’d love to hear stories of others on this subject. Have you ever intervened? What did you say? Did they apologise? Is there a word you really hate that others don’t?