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Trigger warning – abuse, hate speech, offensive language

Freedom of speech advocates say that society will regulate itself, and that hate speech against disabled people has no impact upon those people. They should turn the other cheek.

I do not think this is true.

‘People kill abortion providers not simply because they believe abortion is immoral, but because widespread hate speech against abortion providers creates an atmosphere of perceived acceptance and impunity for their actions.’

It is easier to kill a mong, or a retard, or a cripple, or an ‘other’ than it is to kill a human. It is easy to define a disabled person by their impairment and the ‘burden’ they place upon others or impose able bodied constructs around the ‘nature of our suffering’ – it is not so easy to regard that disabled person as a valued member of society. It is easy to devalue us, and the easiest way to do that is through being a purveyor of hate.

If there was not a causal link between that devaluing and the hate speech that impacts upon the dignity and lives of disabled people, then other marginalised (so called ‘vulnerable’) populations would be equally targeted as victims of abuse. Elder abuse crimes are not uncommon, for example, but they are statistically less common than disability hate crimes. It is still socially unacceptable to starve your parent with dementia or Alzheimers to death, but if you are a middle class white person who starves your disabled son or daughter to death, you will most likely be acquitted by a jury of your peers.

Because ‘I can count to potato’.
Because repeated hate speech to a wide audience does have an effect.
Because hate speech is destructive to society and most of all to the minority groups it targets.

There are a plethora of entitled white men in suits who will tell you to turn the other cheek, but there is firm evidence about what enduring hatred can do to an individual. It can lead to depression, loss of self esteem, be socially isolating, limit your life chances, endanger your health and safety.

We live in a country where it is acceptable to sterilise a twelve year old disabled girl without her consent on the premise that she is statistically likely, one day, to be a rape victim. This, and other atrocities, would not be permissible if the child were not disabled.

It is time to have a national conversation about hate speech and disability vilification, because societal attitudes have an impact upon both hate crimes and our reactions to them.