Using a wheelchair in this able-bodied world, I’ve become accustomed to dealing with barriers. Usually those barriers are physical obstacles in my community; steps, broken sidewalks, dangerous slopes, etc. The unseen obstacles, however, are often rooted in people, and are harder to change. It manifests in actions, body language, and words.
I’ve heard my fair share of “crippled” “invalid” and “handicap.” Words that cut, but feel too innocuous to the person saying them that progress and awareness on the issue seem impossible. So why try?
That was where my brain was a number of years ago when the “Spread the word to end the word” campaign began. The hill seemed too steep to climb. My experience with people was that they would move on to another word or phrase that was equally hurtful. Ending the “R” word, in my mind, would have no effect, because the oblivious maliciousness behind why people were using it would still be intact.
I thought, “Without addressing the root of why people were using the word, which was to demean someone by comparing them to someone they perceived as ‘less-than’, the cycle of harsh and demeaning language of disability would continue, with a new word in place.”
Then something amazing happened. The awareness side of the campaign took hold. People started to see… people! Listening started. Structural reforms were taken, organizationally, medically, and governmentally. Change came, and change happened in me as well.
What I realized is that years of dealing with the status quo had made me cynical. I had given up trying to improve the world around me, because it seemed to big. And when that happens, when you’ve given up hope and optimism, improving the world becomes impossible.
Sure, there is still more work to be done. People who use the word “libtard” are a prime example. There will always be people oblivious to how their action affect others, and people that spit into the wind of any positive change.
So on this “Spread the word” day, ignore the small people shouting against a movement. Don’t forget to look at what can be accomplished when something hurts and is wrong, and you stand up and say “No, no more.” When you push back, tell your stories, and continue to hope, change is inevitable.
Today, let’s end the word!