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Opinion | ‘Is That Ableist?’ Good Question.

“I’d be even faster if I was typing in Braille,” Caitlin said.

“Show-off,” I said.

Caitlin was a champion Braille competitor. In fact, so was Haben. They knew each other from the Braille Challenge, an annual event held by the Braille Institute in Southern California.

Sadly, I did not grow up learning Braille. I had low vision and could read magnified print through high school and into college and graduate school. I’m working hard on my Braille these days, but I have a long way to go.

“I’ve done this a bunch of times,” Caitlin said, trying to make me feel better.

“And you don’t have to worry about spelling or punctuation,” Haben reminded me.

“Yeah,” said Caitlin, “I’m making hella mistakes!”

“I still feel stupid,” I said.

“That’s ableist!” Caitlin said and typed.

“Is it?” I asked.

“It denigrates people with intellectual disabilities,” Haben affirmed.

“Hmm,” I said, feeling uncertain. Stupid originates in the Latin verb “stupere”: “to be stunned, amazed, confounded.” So the word doesn’t have root connection to disability. That said, the sting of calling someone “stupid” has everything to do with disparaging those who are perceived to be less able intellectually.

Even though I grew up in San Francisco, a key city in the birth of the disability rights movement — detailed recently in the activist Judy Heumann’s memoir, “Being Heumann,” and in the Netflix documentary “Crip Camp” — I knew nothing then of disability as a cultural phenomenon or a source of pride. I was 18 when the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 was passed — a major achievement that solidified many of our rights, and raised awareness of us throughout the country. Haben and Caitlin, though they have obviously both experienced ableism, have never known a pre-A.D.A. world. They’ve come of age with Disability Pride alongside other pride movements.

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