Ableism and Language

IMAG0259For a number of years, we’ve had this sign on display in our office (click photo above to enlarge).  Originally, the sign was created to stop the use of “gay” as a negative slur.  However, we recently found a note on it, which stated:

“Insane” and “crazy” are ableist and they’ve historically been used to gaslight victims of abuse.
They are not better than homophobic slurs.  Please stop encouraging people to use these words.

Well, we did take the sign down, it had good intentions, but the individual was right. The sign was quite dated and as language evolves, we do too, in response.  We’re still learning as an office, and we work hard to be as responsive and welcoming to our community as possible.

As such, I’d like to take a moment to recognize this minority that is sometimes marginalized. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “About 60 million people or one in five Americans is living with at least one disability and most Americans will experience a disability at sometime during the course of their lives.” One in a five is a huge number. In facts, it’s the largest minority group in America.   Brownworth notes:

Millions of Americans are trying to get through every day without someone discovering they have something seriously wrong with them, without someone discovering they aren’t normal, without someone looking at them as if they are somehow damaged, less than, broken, sick.

If one in five Americans are disabled, then everyone knows someone with a disability–in every family, school, workplace, friend group, etc. One in five LGBT people has a disability, and we think it’s important to think about and to recognize the issues surrounding disability.  I invite you to explore some of our materials about LBGT and disability, including moving memoirs by Terry Galloway and Connie Panzarino. Just click on the images to see their catalog entry.

Queer Crips: Disabled Gay Men and Their Stories
Queer Crips: Disabled Gay Men and Their Stories
The Me in the Mirror by Connie Panzarino
The Me in the Mirror by Connie Panzarino
Mean Little Deaf Queer: A Memoir by Terry Galloway
Mean Little Deaf Queer: A Memoir by Terry Galloway
Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability by Robert McRuer
Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability by Robert McRuer
Sex and Disability by Robert McRuer and Anna Mollow
Sex and Disability by Robert McRuer and Anna Mollow













Albeism is a form of discrimination against people with disabilities. It is the practices and dominant attitudes in society that devalues and limit the potential of persons with disability.  Brownworth comments: “The Americans With Disabilities Act is an unreliable farce, and those of us who are disabled …must battle with employers and landlords, doctors and health insurance companies to get what we need. We have to be activists whether we want to be or not, and yet all the while we must do our best to hide who we really are from those on whom we depend for survival.”  One in five. We all know someone with a disability, it’s time we start thinking about our words and work towards creating a fully inclusive society.

For further reading, please check out Victoria A. Brownsworth’s article “Coming Out As…Disabled.” Additionally, head over to Autistic Hoya for a glossary of ableist phrases and why they’re problematic, and to see just how much ableist language pervades our society, check out Thought Catalog’s “15 Crazy Examples of Insanely Ableist Language.”

The Disability Services for Students (DSS) is dedicated to providing a welcoming and supportive environment for student with disabilities at Indiana University Bloomington. You can find more information about their office here.

Disability Awareness Month

March is Disability Awareness Month, and although the month is almost over, around here we believe it’s never too late for some quality resources and education. Our collection has many voices from disabled members of the GLBT community that reveal lives affected by intolerance, legal disputes, lack of inclusivity, questions of identity, isolation, and misconception.  A common theme is the collision of queer theory and disability studies, resulting in the emergence of the queer disabled culture. Many also describe both alienation and acceptance within the queer community.

 The Sexual Politics of Disability: Untold Stories
[6.780 SHAse 1996]

Based on first-hand accounts, these stories take a close look at questions of identity, relationships, sex, love, parenting and abuse and demolishes the taboo around disability and sex. It shows both the barriers to disabled people’s sexual rights and sexual expression, and also the ways in which these obstacles are being challenged.


 Queer Crips: Disabled Gay Men and Their Stories
[6.7843 GUTqu 2004]

Reverberates with the sound of “cripgay” voices rising to be heard above the din of indifference and bias, oppression and ignorance. This collection of first-person narratives of gay men with mobility and neuromuscular disorders, spinal cord injury, deafness, blindness, and AIDS, fight isolation from society — and each other — to establish a public identity and a common culture.

 Looking Queer: Body Image and Identity in Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender Communities
[3.200 ATKlo 1998]

A collection of research, first-hand accounts, poetry, theory, and journalistic essays that address and outline the special needs o sexual minorities when dealing with eating disorders and appearance obsession. Disability is addressed in several sections of this book, including misconception, discrimination and bias, partner perceptions, and gender identity.

 Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender People with Developmental Disabilities and Mental Retardation: Stories of the Rainbow Support Group
[6.160 ALLga 2003]

Describes the founding,a chievements, and history of a unique group providing support for GLBT peple with developmental disabilities or mental retardation. Group founder John D. Allen describes the Rainbow Support Group’s beginnings in 1998 and the ways in which it has been shattering the myths and stereotypes surrounding people with mental retardation ever since.

 Why Can’t Sharon Kowalski Come Home?
6.784 THOwh 1988

In 1983, Sharon Kowalski was seriously injured when her car was struck by a drunk driver, leaving her unable to move or communicate in traditional ways. Karen, her lover of four years, was by Sharon’s side constantly, helping her in the arduous fight to regain basic life-skills. In 1985, the court awarded Sharon’s father sole guardianship, and within 24 hours, he denied Karen visitation rights. In this book, Karen shares her struggle to fight for her and her partner’s rights and her transition from being a closeted lesbian to a feminist activist.

 The Me in the Mirror
6.7863 PANme 1994

Writer, activist and artist Connie Panzarino was born in 1947 with the rare disease Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type III, formerly called Amytonia Congenita. Throughout a childhood filled with both pain and joy, she strove to define herself: “I knew I was different. Now I had a name for the difference, like being Italian or Jewish. I was an Amytonia. I didn’t understand if that meant that I would never walk, or if all it meant was lack of muscle tone. I didn’t know that most children with this disease die before they’re five years old.” In this deeply moving and eloquent memoir, Connie Panzarino describes her decades of struggle and triumph, her relationships with family members and long-time lover Ron Kovic, her eventual turn to lesbianism, and her years of pioneering work in the disability rights movement.

 Eyes of Desire: A Deaf Gay and Lesbian Reader
[6.7801 LUCey 1993]
Eyes of Desire 2: A Deaf GLBT Reader

[6.7801 LUCey 2007]

In these volumes, deaf GLBT people tell their stories of discovering their sexual identities, overcoming barriers to communication, and reveal insight into deaf gay and lesbian culture.


 Body, Remember
6.7843 FRIbo 1997

In this poetic, introspective memoir, Kenny Fries illustrates his intersecting identities as gay, Jewish, and disabled. While learning about the history of his body through medical records and his physical scars, Fries discovers just how deeply the memories and psychic scars run. As he reflects on his relationships with his family, his compassionate doctor, the brother who resented his disability, and the men who taught him to love, he confronts the challenges of his life. Body, Remember is a story about connection, a redemptive and passionate testimony to one man’s search for the sources of identity and difference.

 Mean Little Deaf Queer
6.7801 GALme 200

In 1959, the year Terry Galloway turned nine, the voices of everyone she loved began to disappear. No one yet knew that an experimental antibiotic given to her mother had wreaked havoc on her fetal nervous system, eventually causing her to go deaf. As a self-proclaimed “child freak,” she acted out her fury with her boxy hearing aids and Coke-bottle glasses by faking her own drowning at a camp for crippled children. Ever since that first real-life performance, Galloway has used theater, whether onstage or off, to defy and transcend her reality. With disarming candor, she writes about her mental breakdowns, her queer identity, and living in a silent, quirky world populated by unforgettable characters. What could have been a bitter litany of complaint is instead an unexpectedly hilarious and affecting take on life.

 Exile & Pride: Disability, Queerness and Liberation
9.786 CLAex 1999

Exile and Pride explores the landscape of disability, class, queerness, and child abuse, telling stories which echo with the sounds of an Oregon logging and fishing town and with the lively political debates of crip crusaders and transgender warriors.



We want to hear from you! What are your experiences within the queer disabled community? Have you read any of the above books, or encountered any other helpful resources? Let us know in the comments!