American Sign Language and other signed languages are languages. It’s important to respect them as languages.
ASL is not English. It is a completely different language. Similarly, signed languages aren’t all the same. British Sign Language is completely different from ASL.
Signs are not universal, any more than spoken words are universal. The meaning of a sign isn’t always obvious just by watching; many signs are completely arbitrary.
Sign is not pantomime, and it’s not ad hoc gesture. It’s also not like symbolic gestures that are sometimes made up to accompany kids songs either. It’s a language, with all the complexities of language. The difference is important, and it needs to be respected.
In order to know what signs mean, you have to learn them. (Just like in order to know what spoken words mean, you have to learn them.)
ASL is not just gestures, any more than spoken languages are just sounds. ASL has grammar, vocabulary, and culture. It’s important to respect this and not erase it.
ASL has vernacular just as spoken languages do; here’s a Washington Post article on how ASL used by African-American communities differs from that of whites.
There exist an incredible amount of sign languages, all over the world. Here’s a list on Wikipedia.
Another thing to bear in mind:
A person fluent in both ASL and English (or Spanish and Venezuelan sign language or whatever) is bilingual, just like a person fluent in Spanish and English or whatever.
This SHOULD be an obvious thing once you grasp that signed languages are real LANGUAGES. But for some reason a lot of people seem to have trouble making the connection on their own and just don’t count signed languages when counting the langages that a person knows.
I once knew a deaf woman who knew 12 languages, including 7 signed languages and 5 written languages. (She does not speak or read lips in any of them, she communicates either by signing or by reading and writing)
Braille is not a language. Braille is a system for making printed words accessible to blind people.
All braille looks the same visually. There is no bold or italic in braille, and there are no fonts or scripts. Braille is always read left-to-right, even in languages that are printed right to left. Languages that are printed in different alphabets still look the same in Braille.
For example, even though Hebrew and English look dramatically different in print, they look the same in Braille. This can sometimes mislead sighted people into thinking that Braille is its own language, but it is not.
The only major difference between Braille and print is that Braille uses raised dots instead of visually distinct letters. (A minor difference: Braille uses a lot of contractions to make it less verbose.)
Braille is not translation, and putting something into Braille does not change the meaning.
If an English book is brailled, it’s still in English, and it still has all of the same words. It hasn’t changed languages; it’s just been encoded in a way that makes it possible to read by feeling rather than seeing.
tl;dr Braille is not a language, and brailling books doesn’t change the meaning, Braille just makes it possible to read with your hands.
I’ve been taught this trick for giving feedback by a couple of people recently, and I’ve been finding it really helpful:
Using “and” instead of “but” can make it much easier to give useable feedback. It also sometimes works in conflict situations:
- “I really liked your message, but I thought it was too long to follow.“
- “I really liked your message, and I thought it would have been easier to follow if it was shorter”.
- “I’m sorry that I yelled, but what I was saying was important. Your dog has to stay out of my yard. He’s been digging up my flowers.”
- “I’m sorry that I yelled, and what I was saying was important. Your dog has to stay out of my yard. He’s been digging up my flowers”.
If you say but, it’s often heard as “I know I’m supposed to say something nice, but I don’t really want to.” If you say and, it’s more often heard as “I believe both of these things.“
It’s worth considering erring on the side of saying and rather than but when you sincerely believe both things. It often makes a big difference, both in how you think about what you’re saying, and in how it’s perceived by other people.
I also think it’s very different for a disabled person to use these terms interchangeably than it would be for an abled person. You get to make that decision for yourself because you’re a part of the group so to speak?
I don’t think so, actually. Nondisabled people have to use some form of language to refer to us.
There’s not really much neutral terminology, and there isn’t a broad cross-disability consensus about which language is better. Even within disability groups, this issue is often contentious.
Nondisabled people have to call us something when referring to us, and I think that they could do worse than using both terms interchangeably.
This article by an SLP, “Would you accept this behavior toward a non-autistic child?” is a piece that I think uses both terms in a clearly respectful way.
So there’s this dynamic:
Autistic person: The door is open!
Other person: I *know* that. It’s hot in here.
Autistic person: The door is open!
Other person: I already explained to you that it’s hot in here!
the only thing i would add to this post is the importance of people-first language “person with autism” rather than “autistic person”
That was actually a deliberate choice and not a mistake. I’m autistic myself, and I’m part of an autistic culture that actively dislikes person-first language. In my community, person-first language is associated with parents who want to speak for us rather than listening to us about our needs and perspectives. It’s also associated with the belief that our autism is somehow contrary to our personhood, or that it’s separable from who we are. Most of us find that idea very offensive.
I wrote a post on the politics of person first language and autism a while back.
Neutral-ish words like “Uh huh”, “ok”, and “sure” can sometimes sound like they mean “this is boring and I want you to stop talking about it”.
- Matilda: My cat just had kittens! They are adorable!
- Shira: Uh huh
This could sound to Matilda like Shira means “I’m annoyed that you’re talking about your cats and would like you to stop.”
If Shira actually wants to listen to Matilda talk about the cats but isn’t sure what to say, repeating part of what Matilda said might be a better option, eg:
- Matilda: My cat just had kittens! They are adorable!
- Shira: Your cat had kittens?!
- Matilda: Yes, she did. Last week.
Another option is to say explicitly that you want to hear about it, eg:
- Matilda: My cat just had kittens! They are adorable!
- Shira: Tell me about your adorable new kittens?
This isn’t an exhaustive list; there are any number of other examples in both directions. But if you’re saying things that you think are neutral and it seems to result in other people ending the conversation a lot, it’s worth considering whether you’re inadvertently sending off linguistic signals that you’re bored.
People with certain disabilities often have heavy disability accents. Their speech can sound very different from the way most nondisabled people speak.
People with disabilities that affect communication are often pushed into separate programs, particularly in adulthood. Even when they are in the same classes in the same schools, there isn’t much of an expectation that any peers listen to them. This was even more true a generation ago. As a result, most people without disabilities are lousy at understanding people with disability accents, and don’t understand that this is a glaring hole in their social skills.
Many unskilled people tend to maybe ask people with disability accents to repeat themselves once, and then they get frustrated and start ignoring them. Sometimes they pretend to understand, and smile and nod rather than actually listening. Sometimes they hang up on them. Sometimes they pass them off to another person, who also doesn’t bother to actually listen. Sometimes they hang up. If they are medical workers, sometimes they write on a chart that someone is impossible to understand or has no communication (particularly if that person also has an intellectual disability.)
Do not be this person. If you can’t understand someone with a disability accent, the problem is your skills, not their voice. (If you have a receptive language disability that prevents you from learning to understand accents, then it’s no one’s fault and you need an interpreter to communicate. Neither their voice nor your brain is wrong. In that situation, the skill you need to develop is finding an interpreter).
If you listen, and make it clear that you are listening, you will learn to understand, and you will be able to communicate successfully with more people.
An important phrase for this is “I’m having trouble understanding what you’re saying, but I care what you are saying.”
Make sure it’s true, and keep listening. The more you listen, the easier it will be to understand. Understanding . And practice. You get better with practice.
Too many people are ignored because others can’t be bothered to understand their accents. You can make this better by listening (and by insisting that people you supervise listen.)
I’d like to add that “finding an interpreter” is not necessarily the only option, or even always most effective option, assuming “an interpreter” = “another human”.
If speaker and listener both have reading & writing skills in the same language (or even if just the speaker can write and the listener can read) then the two can communicate in writing, and not have to involve a third person.
If at least one has an Augmentative & Alternative Communication (AAC) device, then that could sometimes be used too.
I work in retail and have auditory processing difficulties. With customers and coworkers who share my dialect of English, I still find myself asking for repetition, or re-wording. Recently, I had to ask a customer who needed an item placed on hold to repeat herself about five times, as our interaction was over the phone, and there was too much background noise on both our ends.
When I get customers who do not share my dialect of English (speaking a dialect from a distant part of United States, or who have English as their second language) the amount of repetition/re-wording needed increases. If there is no assistance available to the two of us, I will lead the customer to the part of the store I think contains what they’re searching for. If I have misunderstood them, they tell me, and we try to find more descriptions and alternative phrasing, until either we do find what they need, or rope in more coworkers, or traverse the whole store and find that we don’t carry what they seek.
In the case of English-as-second-language customers, many do bring their own interpreter, often a relative, and between the three of us, a similar process as the above goes down, but much faster.
Highly effective are the customers who bring a smart phone, tablet, or other AAC device; computer-translated vocabulary isn’t always as exact or nuanced as needed, but it eliminates auditory processing issues from the equation, and the customer is also able to show me pictures.
Customers who share my dialect and have no noticeable disability accent also benefit from bringing AAC devices with them shopping, because if they can access the store’s website and find the product code, we can search our inventory, something we’re not able to do with just a description/name. Or they show me pictures of what they want, and while we might not have the same product, I can find them something similar. Corporate encourages use of such tech, offering coupons/sales/discounts through multiple platforms.
Summary of my thoughts: human interpreters are one of many communication options, alongside writing, computers, etc. Which will be the most effective or practical varies contextually.
Thank you for the important points you’ve added.
You can have a receptive language difficulty?
Yes, absolutely. It’s a cognitive issue that’s fairly common in autistic people. There are also auditory processing problems that can interfere with understanding speech (which are cognitive, not a problem with the ears). They are not the same thing, but have significant overlap (and a lot of people have both).
That’s one reason that some people need symbol support to be able to use AAC, and a reason that some people who are not deaf need captions to be able to understand TV. (And any number of other things).
Some people emphatically prefer to be called people with autism. Others get very offended. Some people emphatically prefer to be called autistic people. Others get very offended. There are reasons for all of that.
They have to do with the history of the intellectual and developmental disability community, the autism parent community, and the specific autistic self advocacy community.
For intellectual and developmental disability:
- Most self advocates have a very strong preference for person-first language
- Person-first language in this concept means “I am a PERSON, and I am not going to allow you to treat me as a disability case study, nor am I going to tolerate your diagnostic overshadowing.”
Autism is a developmental disability. There is a highly visible and destructive community of parents who consider themselves to be afflicted with their child’s autism. There is an autistic self advocacy community that developed in part specifically due to the need to counteract the harm being done by autism parents. The language someone prefers will often depend on which of these facts seems most important at a given time.
Regarding developmental disability.
- Folks who are primarily involved in the IDD self advocacy community usually prefer to be called people with autism
- This is for the same reasons people with any sort of developmental disability usually prefer person first language
- In that context, “person with autism” means “I am a PERSON, and you are not going to treat me like an autistic specimen.”
Regarding the destructive autism parent community:
- This parent community pushes the agenda of parents who believe that their child’s autism is a horrible tragedy that befell their parents and family
- They call themselves the autism community, but they consistently refuse to include or listen to autistic self advocates (especially adult self advocates). They only care about neurotypical parent perspectives (and only from parents who think autism is horrifying)
- They promote things like intense behavioral therapy for young children, institutionalization, group homes, sheltered workshops and genetic research aimed at developing prenatal testing. They do not listen to autistic self advocates who object to these things.
- They don’t care about the priorities of autistic self advocates. They do not do any work on issues such as self-directed adult services, enforcing the Olmstead mandate to provide services in the community rather than institutions, or research into skills for listening to people whose communication is atypical
- These parents have an emphatic preference for person first language. They say “people with autism.”
- What they mean by this is “Autism is NOT a part of who my child is, it’s an evil brain slug attached to their head, and I want to remove it at all costs.”
There is also an autistic self advocacy community. It developed in significant part to counteract the harm done by the autism parent community:
- A lot of the agenda of the autistic self advocacy community is the same as the IDD community and pursued in cooperation with the IDD community
- But there is also a lot of work that’s specifically about countering the harm that has been done by the autism parent community
- Much of the worst harm done by the parent community comes from the cultural consensus that autism is like an evil brain slug, and that any amount of brutality is a good thing if it might mean that the slug shrinks or dies
- For this reason, participants in the autistic self advocacy community generally have a very strong objection to person first language
- They call themselves autistic or Autistic.
- In this context, “autistic person” means “Autism is part of who I am. I’m ok. Stop trying to get me to hate myself. You do not need to remove autism to make me into a full person. We are already people. Stop physically and emotionally mutilating people in the name of treatment.”
Neither set of self advocates are wrong. Both positions are legitimate and important to be aware of. In order to know what someone means by their language choices, you have to consider the context.
And there’s also an autistic self-advocacy community that is separate from the DD community and also separate from what most people call “the autistic self-advocacy community”. That self-advocacy community is heavily affiliated with a parent community that also prefers person-first language. In many cases, people in that community prefer “person with autism” both because of the history of their community, but also because for them being called “autistic” has always meant “you are nothing but your autism and you are nothing but a walking collection of symptoms”. Which is a much more common experience for people in that community, because they tend to be people who were considered low-functioning for their entire lives. AutCom — as originally constituted, not as recently-blended — is a good example of such a community, so are any communities that are largely made up of FC users.
Yes, that too. Thank you for pointing that out, it’s really important and I should have included it.
is the word “stupid” ableist? I keep trying to explain to people that it’s a really important word for a really important concept but I can’t seem to put into words WHAT exactly that concept is.
I don’t think “stupid” is an ableist word, and I’ve also been struggling to explain why. At some point I’ll write about that in more detail. I have not yet been able to do so, so this is not that post. But I want to address something else that I see in your question. I think that, to an extent, what you are asking is more along the lines of:
- Everyone is telling me a word I use is a bad word
- I have something to say that I think is important
- I can’t say it without using that word
- And I can’t explain why that word is important
- And people are upset with me
- Is it ok for me to keep using the word anyway, or should I shut up about the thing until I can explain why I need that word?
And my answer here is:
I think that it is almost never a good idea to give up using a word that you feel like you need. I think you should probably keep using that word, unless you are able to find an alternative that still allows you to communicate the concept that is important to you.
Sometimes when people feel overly attached to a bad word because they are attached to expressing the bigotry associated with that word. If you’re worried that might be the case with you, work on addressing that. If that’s the problem, becoming less bigoted will probably make you less inclined to use the word anyway. If you stay bigoted, changing the word you use is unlikely to help.
You can’t avoid this issue by just saying that you don’t mean it that way. It has to actually be true. And, if you’re using a word that a lot of people object to, it’s worth considering whether you’re actually saying something worse than you think you’re saying.
That said, sometimes bigotry or hatred has nothing to do with why you feel like you need a word other people want you to stop saying. Sometimes you feel like you need the word *because you actually do*. Take that possibility seriously; don’t let people pressure you out of communicating. And, as you consider these things, keep in mind the difference between basic morality and personal piety.
There may be worthwhile attempts to move away from certain words that you are not in a position to participate in, because you might not be able to give up those words without damaging your communication. I think that people should use whatever words they need to use in order be able to communicate.
Words matter. But communication matters more. Don’t give up words you depend on to communicate clearly lightly.
What are some good words that are either:
- Swears (eg: fuck)
- Not-quite-swears that are clearly substitutes for actual cussing (eg: exclaiming fudge or sugar, saying something stinks instead of saying it sucks, etc)
- Clean insult words/phrases (“go step on legos”, asinine)
These are important words, and I know y'all know some I don’t.
Slurs have power because of how they’re used and what it evokes when someone says them. Not because groups have decided to be offended by them. Target groups don’t give slurs power; the weight of historical and current use gives them power.
Words mean things.
The n-word is a slur because it has always been used to say that black people aren’t really human and to incite violence. That is what that word means when it’s said by someone who isn’t black. You can’t say that word as a nonblack person without invoking that meaning to some extent or other, even if you don’t mean to. That’s not a meaning black people give the word. That’s a meaning that white people created.
Likewise the r-word, especially in noun form. (It’s not always a slur in adjective form, but it always evokes the slur a bit, so it’s better to use a different word if you can). It’s a slur because what it means is someone who isn’t really a whole person because their brain doesn’t work right. That’s not a meaning folks with disabilities are imagining in order to feel offended, and it’s not a meaning they can get away from by deciding not to be offended.
Calling someone a slur means something. It’s a threat. And an implied threat to other people in that group.
Other people can feel how they want about it, but how they feel won’t erase the fact that someone saying a slur is making a threat. Feelings don’t erase violence and threats of violence.
Cussing is important. Here are some uses:
- Expressing boundaries in forceful language
- Expressing emphatic contempt
- Expressing distress
Sometimes it’s ok to insult people. Sometimes it’s important to be rude.
Slurs aren’t part of this, though. It’s not ok to insult someone by comparing them to an oppressed group. It’s not ok to insult someone by referencing their membership in an oppressed group.
Lists of things to say rather than “that’s so gay" or “that’s so r-word" tend to be long lists of big words that are clean and polite. They shouldn’t be, though. There’s no moral obligation to use long words. There’s no moral obligation to always use clean language.
The problem with slurs is that they help to keep marginalized groups marginalized. They hurt innocent people, and they hurt guilty people in ways no one deserves.
So, when the situation calls for cussing at or about someone, use swear words. Don’t use slurs.
And if you can’t bring yourself to use swear words, ever, then STILL don’t use slurs. Use it as an opportunity to excercise your brain in creativity in devising insults or other forms of strong or emphatic language without using slurs or any of the swear words you aren’t comfortable with.
Yes. Slurs are *more* obscene than swears, not less.
She’s spent over fifty years learning to pass as fluent. It’s really a bunch of tricks cobbled together. Like recycling the same phrases over and over so she has time to think of original words. And when she gets reduced to saying “NO NO NO NO NO" because she literally can’t speak quickly in emergencies, people assume she just has anger issues. It’s horrible. I know what she’s doing because I used to do it when I could talk, and I still use many of the same tricks while typing.
But I’ve finally figured out how to get people to believe her language problems are real. I’m just shocked I had the social skills to work it out…
Mostly by trial and error.
Anyway so what I do is I act like I’m letting people in on this big secret. “These are the secret tricks those of us with language disorders use to sound fluent when we aren’t.“ I try to make it sound like it’s some kind of big Illuminati secret we all know and they don’t.
And I tell them that if they listen really really close and pay attention, they will hear that we use a lot of the same stock phrases over and over. And that if they listen to my friend, they’ll hear it too. And then they’ll be in on our big secret to passing as fluent. And so on and so forth. Maybe I even let them know some of those phrases to look for.
And it seems to work. When they talk to her, they report back to me that they totally saw what I meant, that at least 80% of her speech is repetitive stock phrases.
And they never disbelieve her again.
I know there’s some problems involved here. But in appealing to their desire to be in on something happening right under their nose, they forget they ever doubted her.
Helps best (if you’re the one being disbelieved) to have someone else do this for you, although you can try it yourself if you have nobody else. If it’s someone else doing it for you, be sure to discuss what some of your stock phrases are, and what you might want them to say about you.
But seriously this had worked where no amount of persuasion and logic worked. People love to be in on secret knowledge most people don’t have. And also, having a second person say it about you reinforced your credibility when someone might not believe you as easily about yourself.
It really makes me mad that people who can speak with the even slight appearance of fluency, get treated as if they have no language problems. Or no serious ones. Even if they didn’t speak fluently till 5, 10, or 20.
Meanwhile people who can’t speak are assumed to have severe language problems even when they have a bigger vocabulary than most speaking people. (Which often they do, if what they have is a speech problem, not a language problem. Meanwhile I grew up, after a speech regression was over anyway, with superficially fluent speech but serious language and communication problems and nobody noticed until I began to lose speech again. They just passed those problems off as everything from laziness to anger to emotional problems to drug use.)
Words and phrases can be hard to come up with. Sometimes, it’s easier to use phrases that someone else already came up with.
Some shows, books, and movies are particularly good for this. Here are some I have found useful in this regard (do not take this as an unequivocal general endorsement of…
I get them from autistics on the internet. Talking about autism is the most difficult thing for me, so I steal the words of other people to do it.
Some things that work for some people who sometimes have trouble making words:
- Sometimes text-based communication works better
- Sometimes using email or instant messaging or text messaging will make you able to use words when you couldn’t do so with your voice
- When that doesn’t work, sometimes typing random nonsense or quotes or something can get you into a mode in which you have more words to use
- Sometimes if you can say any word or phrase, it makes other words start working
- For instance, saying lines from a book or TV
- Or, frustratingly, sometimes explaining inability to speak makes it easier to speak
- If it’s a particular word you can’t find, describing the thing can work
- Sometimes making sounds that aren’t words works as expressive communication
- Sometimes making sounds can make words come after
- Sometimes waving hands can help make words come out
- Or making gestures of other sorts, like pointing at things
i can almost always type coherently even when i can’t talk worth a damn. on the rare occasions when i can’t type either, keymashing actually sort of works. like there are a bunch of keymashes in the pipe and i have to get them out before words can come through.
there have been times where I completely lost the ability to make anything other than pained/angry animal noises
not even typing helped
all that came out was keymashing and by the time I got all of that out I was no longer able to type either
all I could do was go lay in bed until I passed out from mental exhaustion
surprisingly, when I woke up I had words back again
scary, but I guess the lesson was sometimes my brain just needs a hard reset and no amount of wheedling will fix things quicker
if you give yourself a break before you hit the wall, you get your words back faster. it’s a hard skill to learn, though, because you’re surrounded by people who think language and sensory impairments aren’t real, and push you to push yourself, and only believe you’re in trouble when you break down in humiliating ways. if you let them judge for you, you’re always going to be on the edge of losing functionality, because that’s the only way they acknowlege your limitations.
i’m speaking of a general ‘you’, btw, not you specifically, vj. it seems to be p much universal.
anyway, no amount of ‘educating’ the people around you will get them to be responsible gardeners of your limits and boundaries, so you have to learn to nurture yourself. and that’s hard. because we’re not taught that it’s ok to nurture ourselves or be careful of ourselves. but we need to do it anyway, even if it pisses people off, even if they don’t understand.
think of yourself as being like a fine sports car. you wouldn’t treat it like an offroad truck. you wouldn’t delay oil changes until the engine is smoking. you wouldn’t run the tank empty before gassing up. you wouldn’t wait until the tires are bald before changing them. you do maintenance regularly, and repairs as soon as the slightest problem crops up, because a sports car is a tetchy machine and needs lots of tlc.
and when it gets the right maintenance, it blasts everything else off the road. :D
Reblogging for very insightful commentary.
Noticing boundary-violating language
There are certain broad social rules about being nice to people. You’re supposed to mind your own business. You’re not supposed to say offensive things without a compelling reason.
Sometimes, people try to break the rules while evading the consequences of breaking the rules. And there are standard phrases they often use to do this (NB: people who do this don’t always use these phrases, and people who use these phrases aren’t always doing anything bad. But they’re still common enough red flags to be worth noticing).
- No offense but
- I’m sorry but
- I hope you won’t mind if I ask you…
- I couldn’t help but overhear…
- I couldn’t help noticing…
More often than not, when someone says one of those things, they are about to say something boundary-violating and expect to be treated as though they have said a secret password that made it ok.
People who do this frequently get really good at convincing the targets of it that their boundaries are unreasonable and that they are rude for not cooperating. It’s harder for them to do this if you notice them doing it.
Sometimes well-meaning people correct the language of people because they think it’s offensive, but end up doing something objectionable in the process because something is going on that they don’t understand.
For instance, people will often correct “autistic” to “people with autism”, because they’ve been taught that it’s more respectful, even when it’s an autistic person describing themself.
This also happens to people who prefer “queer” to describe their sexual orientation.
And lots of other groups.
So here’s some guidelines.
Pay more attention to what someone is saying than what words they choose to express it in. Words matter, but content matters more.
If in doubt, do not correct someone’s language.
Do not correct someone’s language when they are describing themself or a group they are part of, unless they are using a slur for a different group to be self-denigrating.
For instance, if someone who doesn’t have an intellectual disability describes themself as retarded because they feel stupid or unworthy that day, it’s ok to say that’s offensive and bad.
If someone who *does* have an intellectual disability describes themself as retarded rather than some other word you’ve been taught is more appropriate, do not correct them and tell them to use a different word. That’s their business and not yours. And aggressively paying attention to language rather than content is not respectful of the person you are talking to or the group they are part of.
If you do that, it means that you’re saying you’re only willing to listen to members of a marginalized group if they use language you approve of. That’s the opposite of respect.
And generally speaking, do not insist that someone use precisely correct language as a precondition for listening to them. Words matter, but content matters more than words. Respect matters more than words. They are not the same thing. Someone can use all the right words and still say horribly dehumanizing and awful; someone can use bad words in respectful and humanizing ways. Make it about content first.