“See you later” is an unremarkable ending to a convivial evening with friends, however it has been a cause of embarrassment (too other people, not me) on more occasions than I can recollect. What is the reason for this embarrassment? I am blind and this leads some people to believe (quite erroneously) that any reference to seeing or sight will reduce me to floods of tears or I wil, like the Incredible Hulk turn green and start to reek havoc! The issue of language as it relates to disability has, in the minds of numerous people become a place where angels fear to tread.
The desire not to give offence is a praiseworthy one. Most people (unless they are masochists)! Recoil from physical and mental pain. The desire not to be hurt prompts us to avoid giving offence/mental pain to our fellow human beings and we therefore shy away from using words which we feel might (just possibly) offend. As a blind person (woops I’ve used the “blind” word) I have no problem in being described as being blind. In point of fact the description is not wholly accurate in that I have residual vision which allows me to see outlines of objects and I turn the lights on when it gets dark to avoid accidents! Although the description of yours truly as “blind” is not entirely correct I have no objection to being so labelled, indeed I find it rather amusing when people become embarrassed about commonly used phrases such as “see you later” or “see you around”. No offence is meant by the use of such phrases (I use them myself, frequently) and I certainly am not offended by their employment.
I don’t want to live in a society in which people are terrified to mouth anything other than mild platitudes for fear that they may (just possibly) cause offence to me or someone else. This is not healthy for democracy and it can inhibit understanding of disability in that people are afraid to converse with disabled people in case they accidentally say something which may give offence.
Having said that, there are certain words which no civilised person would use, for example the word “mong” or “spas” to describe those with learning difficulties is highly offensive and should be avoided like the plague. However such terms (unlike the phrases mentioned above) are intended to cause offence and common human decency informs us that to utilise them is morally wrong. The contempt implied by the use of such terms as “mong” has echos of Nazi Germany’s “useless eaters” and ”life unworthy of living”, propaganda posters in which disabled people where portrayed as a drain on society’s resources who should be eliminated. The logical conclusion of such propaganda was the mass sterilisation and/or killing of many thousands of mentally and physically disabled persons, indeed before the horrors of the “Final Solution (the mass extermination of European Jewery) came the holocaust against the disabled.
We should never forget the horrors of the so-called T-4 Programme (the name of the programme for the killing of people with disabilities), however we should not allow the atrocities of Nazi Germany to prevent us from engaging in an open debate regarding the use of language as it relates to people with disabilities.