I recently encountered an expression that was new to me but that struck me as being incredibly appropriate for the way many people in the general public interact with individuals in the I/DD community.
Terry Gross, on an episode of her “Fresh Air” program, was interviewing comedian John Moe who suffers from depression and who has written a book, “The Hilarious World of Depression” and has a podcast by the same name. He described how his dad used to tell him to just “snap out of it,” in reference to his depression. and other people he talked to about his condition would say, “Cheer up.” He described these well-meaning but terribly misinformed views of depression as “careless ignorance.” He also referred to such statements with the stronger term, ‘’well-meaning idiocy.”
As soon as I heard him use the careless ignorance phrase, I thought of how often people say similarly well meaning but ill informed things to, or about, people with disabilities. I did a blog post in December of 2017 about just such a phrase, “God gives special children to special parents.” and we had a guest blogger provide a post on the same subject in January of this year.
But there are other examples. The use of the “R” word for one. For another, my deceased father-in-law used to refer to people with Down Syndrome as Mongoloids, a term that probably only folks of my generation have ever heard. You may have experienced different examples, and you are welcome to let us know about them.
I don’t mean to imply that people who use these terms are mean or malicious or intentionally hurtful. They are often very nice people. Very well-meaning people. People who may actually want to say the right thing, but don’t know how. The phrase careless ignorance says it all. Says it succinctly. They are ignorant of proper terminology, or words or phrases that are appropriate, and careless in the application of that ignorance.
Some might accuse me of trying to push political correctness. I would answer, simply remove the term political, and you’ve got it right. Correctness shows knowledge and respect. It eliminates the sting of terms that aren’t correct. It’s what everyone would want if they were experiencing the same circustances.
So what do we do? We can’t really expect all these well-meaning people to Google how to interact with people with disabilities. Though a little research on their part might be nice. Or they could ask us. But it’s mostly up to us to educate them. Remove that ignorance. Correct them when they use the wrong phrase. Do it nicely. Be friendly about it. After all, they aren’t bad people.
One way to educate is to use this space, or maybe your own blog if you have one. We are happy to provide readers with the opportunity to share how they want to be interacted with. What terms or phrases hurt, and which are appropriate. Let us know. This space is available.