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Rethinking Language and its impact

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Language holds significant power in shaping our perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs. The words we use reflect and influence societal stereotypes, prejudices, and biases. In the realm of disability discussions, one word that often slips into conversations without much thought is "normal".

Despite its seemingly innocuous nature, when applied to people without disabilities, this word can be deeply ableist and problematic. Colleagues in the disability community, Have commented that they see me visibly cringe when the term is used, which has prompted me to write about why this word is problematic and why we should aim for more inclusive and respectful language.

The dictionary defines "normal" as"conforming to a standard, usual, typical, or expected." While this definition may appear harmless on the surface, it is crucial to delve deeper into how its use can be insensitive and hurtful when discussing people with disabilities.

Individuals living with disabilities often have a visceral reaction when they hear the word "normal" used to describe those without disabilities-at least I do. It is essential to recognize that this reaction is not an overreaction or hypersensitivity; rather, it stems from the historical and ongoing stigmatization and discrimination faced by people with disabilities.

Using the term "normal" to describe individuals without disabilities implies that people with disabilities are abnormal or deviating from what is considered normal or usual, typically in an undesirable way. This implication perpetuates the harmful idea that disabilities are something to be avoided or that people with disabilities are somehow less valuable or less deserving of respect.

As emphasized in a previous article, "Words Matter"

exclusive/2020/9/18/words-matter it is crucial to acknowledge the power of language in shaping perspectives and influencing behavior. Describing those without disabilities as "normal" suggests that people with disabilities are somehow abnormal. This insinuation is not only disrespectful but also contributes to a culture of ableism, where able-bodied individuals are deemed the standard, and people with disabilities are viewed as deviations from this norm.

The use of "normal" in this context can be deeply hurtful to individuals with disabilities, reinforcing the notion that they are somehow lesser or different from the so-called "normal" population. Such labeling can lead to feelings of exclusion, isolation, and low self-esteem, contributing to the reinforcement of ableist stereotypes and making it more challenging for individuals with disabilities to fully participate in society without facing prejudice or discrimination.

In discussions about disability, it is crucial to be mindful of the words we use. Referring to those without disabilities as "normal" perpetuates ableism, reinforcing negative stereotypes and harming individuals with disabilities. Instead, let us strive to use more inclusive and respectful language that upholds the dignity and worth of all individuals, irrespective of their abilities.

I am as normal as anyone else, despite being blind. While having a disability, I consider myself and every other disabled person "normal" in the shared human experiences and emotions that bind us all. Using the term "normal" as a benchmark for worth perpetuates ableism, creating unnecessary and erroneous distinctions. Let's move beyond these limitations, embrace diversity, and recognize that everyone contributes to the rich tapestry of humanity. Being "normal" extends beyond ability, and celebrating individual uniqueness fosters an inclusive society.

-Michelle Friedman

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