So you want to talk about disability..

It’s Disability Pride Month and BTS just threw the doors wide open for ARMY to start talking about disability, so you want to talk about it, but you’re afraid of saying the wrong thing, accidentally insulting someone, or causing further trauma and harm. Let this guide be a starter resource for you in beginning (or continuing) your journey into disability inclusion.

First, be aware that language is constantly changing and evolving. And I’ll try to update this article if any big shifts occur that people might need to be aware of. Second, disabled individuals do not represent all of us. We are not a monolith. When unsure, ask.

Is it “disabled person” or “person with a disability”? Well, this depends on the person, so if you’re talking to someone specifically, just ask them what they prefer! But if you are speaking broadly, it’s okay to use either. In fact, disability activists have begun to ask people to use “disability first” language — that is, “disabled person” — because we are asking you to center our disabled experiences, not sweep them aside.

*It’s worth noting that many, many “professional” organizations recommend using “person first” language (“person with a disability”), but this is not in alignment with disability activists.

Recommended reading & watching: #WhenICallMyselfDisabled: The Power of Language and Identity

Terms like “special needs” or terms that otherwise emphasize the positive in disability and erase the negative are traumatizing to many disabled individuals. Emily covers this very well in The “Dis” in “Disability” Matters — Disability Inclusion, BTS, and “Permission to Dance”.

If you’re looking for further information about this or other language around disability, I highly recommend reading My Journey with Disability Language and Identity by Andrew Pulrang (who incidentally is also a great person to follow on twitter).

One simple way to start removing ableism from your speech is to check out this great article on Ableism/Language. This includes a list of words that it might be a good idea to not use and instead replace with something less offensive or harmful.

Additional recommended reading: 4 Disability Euphemisms That Need to Bite the Dust

Remember that disabled people are people. We are not here to serve as motivation or inspiration for abled people.

This video is a great resource about this:

Don’t objectify us. We are not helpless. We are whole people. We have our disability identity, but we also have many other facets to our lives.

For example, I am a professor at the University of California. I am married. I have children. I am ARMY. I live a very full life.

Don’t do things on our behalf without our consent. Rather, ask us what we need and center our needs and experiences. Remember, helping feels good, but ultimately, it shouldn’t be about you — center disabled people.

Don’t speak on our behalf without us. The saying is “Nothing about us, without us.” If someone is doing something ableist, especially someone as big as BTS, please don’t step in without first consulting disabled ARMY. We have been fighting these fights for a long time and have experience on how to approach these issues. If we aren’t speaking up, find out why (maybe we are organizing, maybe there is a larger issue to be taken care of, etc.), before talking for us.

When you aren’t sure about something, ask!

Perhaps the most important thing to do when interacting with disabled people and the disability community is to listen to us.

Oftentimes, as is the case with many marginalized groups, we have to educate and ask for access over and over and over again. We are tired. People often ask to be educated for free. We feel forced to give that education for free because we know if we don’t, the next disabled person will have to do it. So, listen, learn as much as you can, and go spread that knowledge so we don’t have to keep repeating ourselves. Spread our written work when we post it so that our words can go further and do the work for us after we have put our labor into them.

An excellent example of this is when an ableist meme was going around Twitter, I wrote a Twitter thread that pointed out why it was it was a problem. People are still using my tweets to help take down that meme — successfully! I appreciate that folks are taking these written words and using them for their intended purpose in a productive and constructive way. And we can do this without cancelling everyone for making mistakes.

As the Disabled ARMY Advocacy account on twitter, I gladly do the labor of education and advocacy because of my love for this community and for my fellow disabled ARMY. So, do feel free to reach out to me if you have questions or concerns.

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