It’s about damn time we stop using ableist slurs

It's about damn time we stop using ableist slurs
Posted on Thu 23 Jun 2022

Written by Hannah Diviney, author, activist and client of CPA.

Hannah writes a regular column for CPA exploring her journey with cerebral palsy and activism - head here to check out previous blogs and hear Hannah on Cerebral Conversations podcast. 


Hi friends,

I hope you’re all staying warm out there – winter’s definitely arrived, hasn’t she? I don’t know about you, but I find my body gets a bit unhappier in this weather; stiffer, sorer, spasms are more familiar. Sometimes I think I should build a life that allows me to escape winter altogether, twelve months of warm weather, hopping between hemispheres.

The weirdest thing to happen to me this month was going scary viral on the Internet. And just how did I go scary viral, you ask? With a tweet. 240 characters. Gently but firmly calling out Grammy-winning musician Lizzo for her use of an ableist slur in her latest song.

Basically, in the second line of her new song ‘GRRLS’ Lizzo used the word ‘spaz’ short for spastic in the context of implying she was about to lose control or have an emotional outburst in reaction to a man’s behaviour towards her best friend. This slur has been popularised as a schoolyard insult, a cheap laugh in a comedy that could be so much smarter, a shorthand for a lack of intelligence. And yet, so many of us who have Cerebral Palsy know that’s not what the word means at all.

I have Spastic Diplegic Cerebral Palsy, where many of you will know, ‘spastic’ in this context refers to spasticity Spasticity means living with a constant and painful tightness in my legs and across my body. It’s that tightness which makes the colder months more difficult, makes my body unable to do what I ask it, and which leaves part of my mind, always occupied by pain. How much space that pain takes up? It depends on the day. It doesn’t have any bearing on my intelligence or ability for emotional control.

Now, I’ve tweeted thousands of times about the inner workings of my brain, about pop culture, and about my achievements. But I’ve never had a Tweet make my phone too hot to touch. I’ve never had a tweet put me on the radar of the BBC or send an interview request from the New York times into my inbox. I’ve never seen a tweet of mine in every article about a moment in pop culture, my name the first result on Google when you type in Lizzo’s.

I always thought that if I ever went viral, it would be for a piece of my writing not something I thought very little about, just using my voice to express valid disappointment.

I didn’t expect messages from people telling me they’d never known it was a slur, but they were grateful I’d told them because they’d learn not to use it now. I didn’t expect a gracious statement from someone so open to learning she changed the song lyric. And equally, I never expected that within the last week, I’d be called every name you could possibly think of. (Really, every single one on Instagram, on Twitter in emails) But all of that happened.

It's been surprising, shocking, exhausting. I’ve been excited, confused and laughing because I refused to cry. I’m so grateful to Lizzo for hearing our community and listening. I hope more people follow her lead, soon. As for me? Well, I’m not going anywhere. This is only the beginning.

Love Hannah x

In support of World Autism Awareness Day at CPA, Tamsin Colley, one of our CP Active Champions, shares her experience being diagnosed with autism, her strengths, ambitions and the shifts she would like to see in attitudes towards autism. 

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