Member of Parliament or Misinformed Person?

So, I hear you ask, what’s the big deal about Nadine Dorries’ ‘window-licking trolls’ tweet? Let me explain:

Nadine Dorries wanted to shame the Twitter trolls by insulting them. When we want to shame others by insulting them we use language which suggest something inherently unpleasant or despicable, for instance, we might say ‘You piece of shit!’ Excrement is an unpleasant substance – nobody wants to be compared to that.

But Ms. Dorries chose instead to use a derogatory term for learning disability to shame the ‘trolls’, thereby implying that there is something so inherently unpleasant and despicable about people with learning disabilities that the malevolent individuals we call trolls should feel ashamed at the comparison.

Once again it seems learning disability is the last bastion of safety from which nasty, cowardly and small-minded individuals can fling insults at others without getting themselves into hot water.

But the use of such language is equally as wrong as the use of racist, sexist, or homophobic language, especially when you consider that people with learning disabilities are vulnerable, and may be less able to speak out and have their voices heard.

To invoke learning disability as an insult towards those we despise is dehumanising and demeaning to people who have learning disabilities.

Disability is not (only) a medical issue. Disability, like race, is a civil rights issue. It is a human rights issue. When MPs, and others, use learning disability as a term of insult to shame others, use derogatory language, or to make a cheap joke, they chip away at the humanity of all those people with a learning disability,  subtly eroding it in the public perception. This leads not only to poor attitudes, but to poor public policy-making and planning, generated by a lack of understanding. It contributes, drop by drop, to the mindset of the politicians who fail to see disabled people and their families as potential voters, and so ignore our needs; who see disabled people as non-productive, and a drain on the public purse – ‘Eaters’ as the Nazis called them, when advancing their extermination policies.

Nadine Dorries has many constituents who have learning disabilities, and many of them are eligible (and perfectly able) to vote. So are their families. She’s not representing them very well, is she?


Blogging About Disability part two: A Firefly Community post

In the second part of this two-part post on Firefly Community, on the subject of blogging about disability, I talk about what we should take into consideration when choosing terminology to use when blogging about (another person’s) disability. 



We have a relative who persistently refers to Freddie, and anyone with Down’s Syndrome as ‘A Down’s’, as though she were talking about a different species, or a breed of dog. We’ve tried to tell her that this offends us, but she just will not take the hint. We cannot cut this person out of our lives, but she refuses to see what is wrong with her attitude, because it is so entrenched – it is the attitude she was brought up with. Her words and phrases betray the fact that she simply does not see people with Down’s Syndrome as being quite as ‘human’ as you and me.

THIS NEEDS TO CHANGE.  The language we use to describe people with Down’s Syndrome, or any disability,  is one of the most important and powerful tools we can use in shaping how the world views them. We must discourage the use of words and phrases which make a differentiation between them and the rest of humanity. We must not define people by a condition they happen to have which is only one aspect of their lives.

My son is not ‘A Down’s’, he is not a ’47th Chromie’ — he is a little boy who loves puddles, picture books, baked beans and chips, his family, and the Gruffalo, and who also has Down’s Syndrome. He is part of the rich and diverse pattern of humankind that makes the world such an amazing place.

With thanks to the Cheshire Down’s Syndrome Support Group for the photo at the beginning of this post.