Making Mistakes: My Piece about Ableist Language Was Ableist

I’m still learning, indeed. And I need to take responsibility when I make mistakes. I made a big one yesterday when I wrote a piece called, Some Thoughts on Ableist Language.

I said some statements that were too broad in their generalizations which led to erasing communities and individuals that prefer identity-first language to person-first language. This is particularly true of the autism community.

Let me get a little more specific:

I started out by saying, “No one is *an* ‘ic'” and then listed a number of words like… an anorexic, a bulimic, an autistic, an arthritic, an asthmatic, a diabetic, an epileptic, a schizophrenic, etc.

It is true that many people in these communities bristle at that kind of language, but “No one is”? What if someone chooses that language?

But here’s where I made my biggest mistake:

I had originally posted these thoughts on Twitter the night before. I had made a tweet that followed this list, which said,

“It’s possible that someone might use this language as a self-descriptor, but it doesn’t mean everyone would want to be named/described in that way. It’s always good to use person-first language.”

Later, when searching for an image to place in the post here, my searching led me to the realization that many people in the autism community reject person-first language and prefer identity-first language.

In other words, many prefer “autistic person” to “person with autism.” The first frames autism as an identity, and the second frames autism as a condition.

So when I placed the language from that tweet in this post, I added,

“Some may also reject the adjective version too. They/she/he is _________(ic). Though some embrace the adjective version as an identity. That’s important to lift up. Others do not, however, and prefer to talk about these as conditions that they have.”

But see what I did there?

I added this, yes, but I had already said, “It’s always good to use person first language.” ‘Always’ is a strong, generalizing word. My second statement about identity language sounds like an afterthought and indicates that person-first language is normative.

Yesterday, an autistic person shared with me that this is ableist and that the autism community “overwhelmingly prefers identity-first language.”

I had used generalizations in ableist ways which erased communities and individuals. I am not in a position to speak for those communities, and I should not erase them with broad words like “always.”

I apologize for this and take responsibility.

And I’ll keep learning.

Renee Roederer

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