Anti-disabled language

I saw yesterday that Mencap have successfully managed to get Ofcom to review an earlier ruling that basically suggested it was OK for Channel 4 to use the term “retard”. This was after 700 of Mencap’s supporters wrote to Ofcom, a nice example of a successful campaign in action. Here’s hoping that the review eventually sends a strong signal that using derogative terms like this to describe disabled people is just not on.

The equivalent term for deaf people is “deaf and dumb”. I find it incredibly offensive for the obvious reasons that it implies that all deaf people are without speech and/or plain stupid. I can speak and I got my education. As well as being inaccurate, it perpetuates stereotypes about deaf people that don’t help deaf children at school when they’re trying to get the support they need to do well. Thankfully the use of the term seems to be rare these days but I still see it crop up from time to time, usually in some ill-informed rag of a newspaper, and it usually causes me to erupt violently at my desk like Pompeii the sequel. Maybe the next time I see it, I’ll fire off a complaint to Ofcom…

What do others think? Do you find it as offensive as I do? Should Ofcom clamp down on the use of such language?


6 thoughts on “Anti-disabled language

  1. As I was growing up my parents strongly opposed the use of unacceptable terms to describe disabilities. The term ‘spastic’ was used by children in schools, up until 1994 this was originally the name of the organisation Scope, however had turned into an unacceptable derogatory term (

    ‘Dumb’ I believe was to describe someone who could not talk, so it may have originated as an acceptable term (in it’s day!). Growing up with a deaf sister I was challenged often by this phrase (dinner ladies and teachers included!) and I would always educate the person to their misuse of the word. ‘How many ‘dumb’ people have degrees!?’ I would ask…

    It takes time to change the use of language, generations even (think of the racial terms used 30 or 40 years ago, they are cringable, even disgusting in contrast to today’s standards of what is ok and what is not). What do we need – more clamping down – or more educating? I think the latter, but I do believe media have a responsibility to use correct terms considering their influence.

    Best regards

  2. Sadly we live in a society that has to label individuals and groups..history as Spencer mentions is slow to correct and eradicate misconceptions, the Deaf before the introduction of technology or indeed before reform to promote oralism had no way of having a voice so therefore considered ‘dumb’.. Today we consider these ignorant assumptions and hope that future efforts to promote awareness and educate for the future, via our children the notions of the past remain where they should be..and stigma and ignorances are eradicated.
    Well done Mencap..I too hate that silly word..and Ofcom, yes more of the same….

  3. Why doesn’t NDCS put its money where its mouth is. Last night, Children’s Hospital on ITV aired a piece about CIs. Within this piece, the surgeon said if the child didn’t have a CI then they would be “condemned to a life of signing” and special schools.

    This is overly negative language and stereotypes BSL using people; in other words prejudice. You would certainly not say, “condemned to a lie of using Welsh”. On prime time tv, this is not a good message to convey and there is no need to put BSL using people down when talking about a medical choice. Such attitudes do the same amount of harm as calling someone ‘spastic’.

    Can deaf organisations challenge this, especially given the no. 3 priority in your next post (from young deaf people) was “More British Sign Language”.

  4. Ian & Alison

    I missed the programme, so I checked out ITV player – guess what no subtitles available. I contacted support and complained – this is the reply I got.

    “We are very sorry that subtitles are not available online at the present time. Please be assured that we are currently working on getting subtitles and audio descriptors available on the ITV player as soon as possible.

    We have noted your email address and will contact you as soon as the ITV player has been made accessible.

    We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause and thank you for being patient with us.”

  5. Oh dear, you have bought Mr Angry back out in me again, the words (in fact i’m not even going to tell them in full) that infuriate me beyond belief are:

    ‘ Sp***ic – Cr***le – Inv***d – Re**rd. GRRRRRR.

    A few years ago, BBC Ouch had a column called Crip**ed Monkey, I rang them and complained stating that A the word Cri**le was a not to be used and considered offensive follow that by B, a Monkey, a supposedly stupid animal was hardly the way to portray a disability blog column.

    They did not agree so I rang the BBC direct and very much above their heads, it was removed within a month!

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