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DISABLED, INSANE, CRIP: The Power of Reclamation

Disclaimer: You may notice throughout this blog post I will use identity-first language (disabled people) and person-first language (people with disabilities) interchangeably. We will dive more into this topic during the blog post, but please note both are valid ways of exploring disability identity.


Asian American woman with long brown hair, wearing sunglasses and throwing up peace signs, leaning against a yellow graffiti wall.
Go-to-coping mechanism for anxiety? Throwing up peace signs.

I’ve had anxiety and depression for most of my life. But I didn’t start identifying as ‘disabled’ until a few years ago. After all, how many panic attacks does it take before one starts to understand their own body/mind through such a complex framework like disability?


Disability was a word that I was afraid of. It felt as though the word represented a terrible fate, a lesser version of humanity. It mirrored so many other words that I was terrified of: Insane. Mad. Cripple.


Now, many years later, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that words can be weapons, and for too long, disabled people held the blade instead of the handle. So perhaps it’s time to flip the script. Reclamation of language like disabled, insane, mad, and crip holds incredible power for those like us. It represents the ability to take back our stories and to strengthen our communities.


For those of you who were like me-- for whom these words carry visceral negative emotions-- I urge you to read on with an open mind and heart. I understand it may be difficult to grasp, but please know that the power of reclamation has had an incredible impact on me. And it might hold the same gift for you.


What is Crip?


At first, it might feel a little strange rolling off the tongue.


CRIP.

This originates from a word that we have been taught our whole lives to cringe at and avoid- Cripple. It’s most well known for its derogatory nature, as something that is often thrown around as a slur against disabled people.


‘Crip’ has found its way into the language of some disabled people as an indication of disability pride. Take it from one of our Crip Riot team members, Lindsey:

Woman with dark brown short hair sitting in a power wheelchair in front of a rainbow striped garage door.
This is Lindsey!! Learn more about her on the Crip Riot "Meet the Team" page.
“I remember the first time I heard a disabled person refer to themselves as ‘cripple’ as a reclaimed term. It was jarring and a shock to see on the page. But that’s why they loved using it—to empower their position, by acknowledging a trait which is traditionally loaded with shame as a source of power and identity instead. I really liked how it was written with unapologetic plain language, when so often it seemed like my disability was purposefully ignored. I was disabled, crippled even—but it wasn’t a thing to try to look away from. We should be seen for all of what we are, disabilities and all, because they aren’t bad parts of us or something to remove ourselves from. ‘Cripple’ demands to be seen and accepted—it is harder to ignore. In this way, ‘crip’ can encompass a multitude of invisible and visible disabilities, mental illnesses, and neurodivergence, as we all struggle to be seen and accepted as we are with our variance in function.”

‘Crip’ has also found its way into academia, as something known as “Crip Theory” and “CripSpaceTime”. It’s prevalence and use within Disability culture made it an apt name for our Disability pride company, Crip Riot.


Quick side note- when you hear the word ‘Crip’, you might first think about the “Crips” gang. There’s a few different theories as to how they got that name, but one of the founders wrote that it came from a different pronounciation of the original "Cribs".


What is reclamation?

Two people, one standing and one sitting in a wheelchair, next to eachother, tinted in an orange blur. Text in front reads "AUTISTIC, CRIPPLE, DISABLED, INSANE, MAD"
Here's some examples of terms that have been used as weapons in the past, but are also valid, reclaimed ways to identify.

To put it simply: Reclamation is when a group of people ‘takes back’ a word that was originally used to harm them. Language slowly changes over time, so when a group begins to reclaim harmful words, it can eventually change its meaning to future generations.


A great example of successful reclamation is the word ‘Queer’. Several members of the Crip Riot team identify as ‘queer’, including myself. What exactly does that mean? In the 70s, the word ‘queer’ was used as a slur against LGBTQIA+ individuals, but during the 80s and 90s, activist groups like Queer Nation led the charge to take back the word.


Use of the word ‘queer’ is certainly growing, especially among people for whom it has never been used a slur. For those who have less distance from the pejorative term, it may be harder to reclaim it comfortably.

Many, especially youth, who self-identify as queer never had the term used against them as a homophobic epithet and therefore can easily use it with pride—there are no traumatic memories embedded in the word, no associations that with its enunciation recall tragedy, fear, hate, and rage.”

Robin Brontsema, “A Queer Revolution: Reconceptualizing the Debate Over Linguistic Reclamation”


The word ‘Crip’ is slowly going through its own process of reclamation, and we are certainly taking part in it. But it is important to note that ‘crip’, like much other reclaimed language, has not been adopted universally. For some, especially those who have experienced the slur firsthand, the word holds strong negative pushback. We fully acknowledge this, and want to emphasize that if you identify as having a disability and ‘crip’ is not a comfortable term for you, that is valid.


So, should I use the word ‘Crip’ or not?


If you’re a person who identifies as having a disability, and you feel comfortable using the word ‘Crip’, we’re all for it! For most of us on the Crip Riot team, it has held meaning and power and we hope it will do the same for you.


If you’re a person who identifies as having a disability and you do NOT feel comfortable using the word ‘Crip’, we fully support that. For some, there is deep trauma embedded in that term, and that is not something we take lightly.


If you’re a person who does NOT identify as having a disability, we recommend proceeding with caution. If disabled people around you have expressed their comfort with the word, then so be it! But each individual may have different thoughts. This is a word that inherently belongs to the disabled community, but there are certainly situations in which it would be fully appropriate to use it as a non-disabled person.


Why did we choose the name Crip Riot?

Black and white 'CRIP RIOT' sticker on a black and grey city background.

The choice to name our company ‘Crip Riot’ was a deliberate one. For many of us, our journeys to discovering disability pride have been filled with liberation and healing.


The day I started to identify as ‘disabled’ was the day I realized that I am whole. My disabilities do not make me lesser. They lead me to experience the world in ways that others do not, which inherently holds value.


For me, Crip Riot represents a push towards a world that sees disability as diversity and not as a threat. Identifying as ‘crip’ drives us closer and closer to a fully inclusive, accessible society.


We are unapologetic. We are disabled. We are Crip Riot.

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