Deconstructing Ableism: Our Language


Kav Lakshmi, Reporter

“I’m gonna have a panic attack.”

“I have PTSD from geometry last year.”

“That was insane.”


At some point at Pres, every student has heard at least one of these phrases, if not more. Some people argue that these phrases are no big deal, but this type of casual ableism is a problem that permeates every corner of society today and has gone unchallenged far too long.

What exactly is ableism? Ableism is defined as discrimination and social prejudices against people with disabilities. People with disabilities encompasses both people with physical and mental disabilities.

When I say mental disabilities, more commonly called mental illnesses or mental disorders, I am confident that a few of you are picturing someone in a hospital gown strapped down to a bed in a mental institution because that is how society chooses to portray people with mental illnesses.

In actuality, there is a wide range of mental illnesses, from anxiety and depression to schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality disorder) and, similarly, there is a wide range of people with mental illnesses.

For the sake of their comfort levels, people tend to distance themselves from the idea that someone in their daily life may be dealing with a mental illness. This is because ableism is so ingrained in society that people do not notice that a good portion of their daily language is ableist.

Ableist words are terms used as slurs/derogatory phrases or words that perpetuate stigmas. Words such as “lame,” “nuts,” “crazy,” “insane,” and “dumb” are some of the most common ableist words used in daily language.

An easy solution to this is replacing these words with a non-offensive word. For example, when you say: “that was insane,” instead say: “that was ridiculous.” Instead of saying: “maybe I’m just crazy” say, “maybe I’m just incorrect.”

Furthermore, there are also ableist phrases that go unnoticed often. This article began with some common examples of ableist phrases used around school. Let’s deconstruct the first two.

The first example provided is “I’m gonna have a panic attack.” There are certainly people on campus who may actually deal with having panic attacks, but oftentimes, this is used by people who are just trying to express feeling stressed. Instead of using an inaccurate phrase, try ‘“I’m unbelievably overwhelmed right now.”

The second phrase is “I have PTSD from geometry last year.” It is highly unlikely that someone actually has post-traumatic stress disorder from geometry class. What they really mean is that the current situation is bringing up bad memories from a math class last year. Instead of saying, “I have PTSD,” just say you have bad memories from math last year.

This article may seem trivial as it only targets ableist words and phrases which may seem as though they have no large impact. However, all of these perpetuate stigmas against individuals afflicted by mental illness which ultimately leaves them at a larger disadvantage than society has already left them with.

This year, our school is practicing the motto of “words matter.” Let’s live that motto by considering the words we use and how they may perpetuate stigmas against an already marginalized group of people.