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False Message: Disability is a joke to be laughed at.

Images, words, and attitudes all shape our implicit impressions of people with disabilities, and many of those words and images create false understandings. We’ve looked at two of these false messages in the past few weeks, and here’s the third:


Disability is a joke to be laughed at. 


Everywhere. I’ve encountered the r-word used as a joke in television shows like Veep, in movies and stand-up comedy routines, even in one of our favorite children’s books, Because of Winn-Dixie. I’ve driven behind cars with bumper stickers making fun of people who ride the short bus. I’ve heard President Obama make fun of himself by comparing his bowling skills to people in the Special Olympics. And I’ve heard friends mock themselves and others this way too.

And then there are slightly more subtle ways of mocking people with disabilities by using terms like “spaz,” “lame,” or even “celebutard.” (I first read the word celebutard in TIME magazine. Urban Dictionary defines it as a mash-up of the words celebrity and retarded that refers to people who are filthy rich and “unable to form complete sentences.)


People with physical and intellectual disabilities deserve the same respect as any other human. Using people or people groups as a shortcut to humor or derision dehumanizes all of us. 

The campaign “spread the word to end the word” has helped raise awareness about the way the r-word has been used as a joke and how that has caused harm and perpetuated a hierarchy of value among us.

Disability Is Not a Joke

Language can both reflect reality and shape reality. We can use words to describe people with disabilities that shape a world of belonging.

False Messages About Disability:

More with Amy Julia:

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