What’s in a Name?

Published: Feb 17, 2019

A while back I got an interesting question from an anonymous user on Tumblr about why I chose the name “Urban Cripple”. They asked:

Anonymous asks, quote:

Why have you chosen to reclaim “cripple?” What does it mean to you?

end quote.

It’s a fair question, really. “Cripple” is a really offensive slur to a lot of disabled folks (myself included) so it’s really weird to see someone choose that term as their handle.

My reason for choosing the name is complicated. Something you need to remember is that, as far as life‐long disabled folk go, I’m old. I grew up steeped in the sarcasm, cynicism, and self‐deprecation of the wheelchair basketball scene. Wheelchair basketball teams are notoriously close‐knit and dripping with dark humor.

A lot of that humor comes in the form of ableist slurs.

As one of two members on my team that was (barely) ambulatory, I was constantly asked to reach things for folks, help load gear, and just generally use my “skills” for good.

If I was ever asked how I was able to do a particular (unseen) task so quickly, the answer was always “Cripple Magic”.

“She’s a biffer (spina bifida).”

“He’s a quad (quadriplegic).”

“They’re a para (paradriplegic).”

“Chris? Yeah, no one’s really sure. He’s just a cripple.”

“Dave’s new girlfriend is an AB (able‐bodied).”

Get enough of us in a car together and someone starts singing Big Gimpin’

The point wasn’t to be offensive. The point wasn’t to reclaim a word or phrase. If anything, the point was to hear those words spoken in mischief and familiarity, without the pain and hurt that so often came with them.

The point was to know that you belonged, that you had a team, and that they accepted you.