Disability is no Joke ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 254

Few things that make me cringe more than jokes, skits or slights about people with disabilities or disabilities in general.

In recent times, I seem to have been both hearing and reading stuff that I find entirely objectionable:

Oh, he’s not the full shilling

Ah, there’s a bit of a screw loose there

Her arms were flyin’ around the place so much that you’d be wondering could you generate some electricity from them.

I feel that the only people who are entitled to joke about disabilities are people who have a disability and where they restrict the joking to their own  personal situation.  Black humour is undoubtedly a great coping mechanism for many people who have some form of disability but being blackened by the so-called humour of others is quite another matter.

Let’s face it, the line between having a disability and being so-called ‘normal’ is but a very, very delicate thread.

Maybe I’m OTT?

Author: socialbridge

I am a sociologist and writer from Ireland. I have worked as a social researcher for 30 years and have had a lifelong passion for writing. My main research interests relate to health care and I love to write both non-fiction and poetry.

11 thoughts on “Disability is no Joke ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 254”

  1. It’s a delicate one. There’s a context for jokes and it’s easy to come across as gratuitous, or taking a pop. But you’re right, if the person wiht a disabiliyt is making a joke, that gives everyone else the right to laugh too. Comedians like Francesca Martinez, Adam Hills and Jack Carroll are able to mine the rich seam of humour their disabilities offer them to great effect.

  2. Having hearing difficulties I am in complete agreement, hearing loss being one of the few disabilites where people actually get to laugh in your face. It is a hard thing dealing with any disability and the losses it incurs in your life without having to deal with people making fun of you…oh look at me up and away on my hobby horse!But good point Jean and always worth making. Thank you. (Again 🙂 )

  3. Being rude or disrespectful is due to a mindset, often that of arrogance, or even a deep sense of some inferiority one wishes to mask. I do, however, take some issue here in defense of dark humor, as it can be profoundly brilliant when the disability being brought to attention results from one or more kind of belief disorder.

    If you’ll think about it, “…a screw loose…” is often a suggestion that certain kinds of fuzzy thinking are almost some kinds of character flaws, and perhaps even a job requirement for many political offices.

    To remove poetic license for the allowance that there might be some physical or mental deficiency behind a series of less than intelligent decisions, it will be necessary to remove the plays of Molière, Shakespeare, and G. B. Shaw from the library along with the stories written by Mark Twain and hundreds of others. The entire category of satire would be eliminated, and while it may seem to be in the name of sensitivity or political correctness, it would prove to be less than an intelligent decision.

    Of course I’m not promoting bigotry or hurtfulness. But there is a difference between meanness and recognition. And there is also a difference between inclusion and exclusion–terms to patronize or condescend, and terms of endearment or camaraderie–sometimes the same words, depending on context and relationships.

    As words begin to take on status of acceptable and unacceptable, and those statuses vary in both time and place, we begin to see an absurdity in allowing “physically challenged”, and disallowing “crippled” by the presumption of, not just the meaning, but the intent of the use. I support no general practice of censorship, but I do practice discretion: I often make decisions about things I approve or disapprove of, and being human, I can also be quite judgmental about it at times.

    Oh, and if you see any loose screws laying about, they could be mine unless they’re found in some lofty place. My cousin says my elevator doesn’t always go up to the top floors.

    1. Hi Van, I agree that the use of language around disability is very much related to specific times and cultures and I also agree that dark humour can be profoundly brilliant.

      However, the instances I’m talking about are ones that would fit what you would term ‘bigotry and hurtfulness.’ I know it’s not a simple issue nor one that is confined to disability only.

      I often wonder if those who say/write what I consider to be offensive and hurtful things have any real insight into the issues about which they are writing. Generally speaking, I suspect not and that they may later cringe when the light dawns when they or someone close to them finds themselves in the situation of the person being joked about or slighted.

  4. A difficult area. I’m ashamed to say that, during the Paralympics me and a friend ended up in total hysterics over something very non-PC. Needless to say that no offence was intended and it wouldn’t have happened outside a closed group.
    But often it’s not the disabled taking offence it’s others on their behalf. People are very quick to be ‘outraged’ these days for little reason.

    1. Hi Roy, oh I know it’s a difficult area but I think it’s a bit glib to say that it’s often not people with disabilities who take offence at the insensitivity, cruelty and belittlement that’s thrown in their direction. From my experience with people with disabilities over the years, I think the hurt inflicted by fellow human beings is often a helluva lot harder to deal with than the actual disability itself.
      Let me say, I know that non-PC hysterics all too well having had fits of it many times in my life. I suspect few are exempt from that category!

  5. When I hear people making jokes about a person because they have any disability, particularly a mental or developmental disability, I cannot laugh. If it is something that the person can’t help or change, what is funny about it? And when it is aimed at children, it can be cruel. That said, I think it is from lack of understanding that people poke fun at things they don’t know about. Having a child or sibling with a disability makes us much more empathetic.

    Be kind, for everyone you meet is going through something.

    1. Hi Nancy, thanks for writing. I’m with you about just not finding jokes about disability at any age in the least bit funny. I would think you’re right that lack of understanding is at the heart of it combined with an element of fear as none of us knows when disability will strike or creep up on us.

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