Students discuss ableist language in first Kat Chat of the semester

Megan Kinnane, a freshman in Psychology with Pre-Med, explains how the phrase "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," isn't always entirely true, especially in her own personal experience during the Sticks and Stones: Words CAN Hurt Kat Chat. (Mary Kate Zach | Collegian Media Group)

Representatives from Counseling Services and the Student Access Center hosted a Kat Chat presentation Tuesday for students on the importance of using disability-inclusive language.

The event, titled “Sticks and Stones: Words CAN Hurt,” featured audience participation, videos and a Q&A segment. It covered the issue of ableism, which is discrimination in favor of able-bodied people.

The Kat Chat was put on by Auma Tindi, doctoral psychology intern at Counseling Services, and Lindsay Kubina, adviser at the Student Access Center. Tindi and Kubina stressed the importance of avoiding language that might unintentionally be oppressive or devaluing, reminding the audience that not all disability is visible.

“We have to train our brains and be sensitive in the way that we describe each other,” Tindi said.

The audience was asked to share examples of using or hearing ableist language, which included obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar or “retarded” being used as insults. More subtle examples include calling something lame or insane, as these words also portray physical and mental disabilities in a negative light. Tindi and Kubina pointed out that language like this excludes people with these disabilities from a group.

Kubina also warned students that viewing a disabled person as inspiring or brave just because of their disability can be problematic because viewing a person only as their disability minimizes the other aspects of their personality.

“This is not to say the disabled are not inspiring or brave, but [doing so] focuses on the disability, not the person,” Kubina said.

Kubina and Tindi recommended speaking up when ableist language is used around you because it can be very difficult for someone with a disability to hear discriminatory language used casually.

“It is not just hurtful,” Tindi said. “It is not just exclusive. It causes psychological harm.”

Kyra Manner, freshman in elementary education, attended the Kat Chat a part of her resident assistance course. She said she wanted to know “how to respond to and understand peers with disabilities,” especially in a leadership capacity if she becomes an RA.

Tindi and Kubina said students should see a counselor for support if ableist language is causing them mental distress and talk to someone at the Student Access Center if they are facing discrimination in the classroom.

The next Kat Chat will be on Feb. 6 at 4 p.m. in Leasure Hall. The theme will be “Connecting the Dots: Recognizing Depression.” For more information, go to the Counseling Services website.