By: Anna Sobczyk
Ableism is a term that didn’t pop until the 1980s and is a term I had never heard of until I moved to Portland. A quick Google search defines ableism as “discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disabilities” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). I recently sat in on a presentation on ableism given by PSU’s Disability Resource Center (DRC), and learned there’s a lot to unpack on the topic. The part that struck me the most was when the DRC presenter said we should be eliminating certain words from our vocabulary. Specifically, “crazy” was bad to say. Quite honestly, I still can’t wrap my head around it.
Another part of the conversation that made me check my perceptions was the notion that our society doesn’t inherently know the history of disabled persons or mental health. Everyone I know has learned about slavery, voting rights, and the Holocaust—including the derogatory terms that arose from these time periods and events. During the DRC’s presentation, it was evident neither my peers nor myself knew anything substantial about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the general history of disabilities and mental health. Perhaps this lack of education early on is to blame for why words like crazy are normalized and why it’s so difficult to recognize their harmful impact.
Although to me, using the word crazy is equivalent to using the word stupid. Both are adjectives to describe something or someone. If I called a person stupid, that’s simply a hurtful way to use the word. Crazy can be used in the same capacity. However, just because a word has the potential to be hurtful or mean doesn’t justify eliminating it from our vocabulary. Of course, slurs do exist that are implicitly hurtful, degrading, and derogatory—but is “crazy” really one of them?