Thursday, January 12, 2017

Countering Ableist Language in the Workplace


Accessibility Series logo
Amy is a public librarian in New York City and they have a passion for reference work of all kinds. They are neurodivergent (ADHD, and learning disabled: nos), chronically anxious, and chronically ill and aren't afraid to talk about any of it. They believe education is fundamental and work hard to combat stigma against disabilities. (Amy uses They/them/their pronouns)

CW: For the use of slurs (particularly the r-slur and mental health related slurs) and a discussion of hurtful ableist language.


I find that ableism is something most of the neurotypical and non-disabled people I work with have never heard of. I find that even co-workers who fit within the various disabled and neurodivergent categories don't understand what it means or how it works. Particularly, there are a lot of misunderstanding about the realities and consequences of ableist language.  


Ableist language is insidious, nasty, and ingrained into so much of our everyday discourse that it can be difficult to begin rooting out. Disabilities, and thus disabled people our/themselves, are often the butt of jokes. Words like “insane” and “psycho” are solidly entrenched as appropriate adjectives to use when discussing people or situations that seem abnormal or even just annoying.  Individuals without mental health issues or learning disabilities may jokingly claim these identities when owning up to perceived mistakes or irregularities. The normalization of casual ableist speech is so pervasive that I catch myself engaging in it as well, for all that I'm disabled and neurodivergent myself.


It is important to steadily counter this perceived norm, particularly within the library, as we are often seen as authority figures, or educators. Not only that, libraries are billed as welcoming for all people, we should be mindful not to exclude people by careless language use. What follows are some examples of ableist conversations that I find myself repeatedly running into in the library, and how I counter hurtful “jokes” and slurs while educating against their use.