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Discussion on: DEV Community: Ableist Language & Maintaining an Inclusive Environment

inhuofficial profile image
InHuOfficial • Edited on

Hi Michael

We align almost perfectly on our views and I agree 100% that language choice is important. Do not think I do not agree that you made valid points, the whole central message of your article was great. ❀

It is just when the moderators and DEV team are involved in these decisions, based on reports from people who feel "uncomfortable" it is so very dangerous. In some areas this may work, here it certainly will not.

I highlighted "more typical abilities" more as a thought experiment, it was indeed offensive if someone wants to read it that way. I can read into your intentions, the overall mood of the article etc. and just realise it was a poor choice of phrase that I would think nothing of or would have indeed noticed if I had not read the article "with a critical eye". But it was a perfect example of how difficult it is for people to get this right.

Imagine if you had written that article without your experiences at the DEV team and I had reported it (you were just some random person trying to contribute to the world and the conversation in a positive way).

You would receive an email suggesting your language choice was poor and offensive in what is a very respectful and polite article.

Now of course you would change the wording but in he back of your head I have now planted a seed. A very dangerous seed.

"I must be super careful with everything I write as people will take offence at anything and this site will not look at context". That means the next time you want to write an article on a very important subject you will be fearful to do so. What ultimately happens is that you do not write those articles and your valuable contributions into a subject that is not spoken about enough are lost from DEV.

So that is one problem with policing language in any way,

Policing language is especially troubling in a space where people are more likely to want to contribute who may have a cognitive impairment. Some people are very literal and cannot process nuance, some people have a limited vocabulary and struggle to expand that vocabulary, some people are anxious and will react very badly to being told their language could cause harm.

These people still need to be able to talk freely as their viewpoint is sometimes really interesting due to a unique perspective that their experiences may bring due to their disability and the way society reacts to the way they present information or react with others.

That may sound like it is unlikely (you inadvertently causing harm with a simple request), but I have been "the wrong side" of the rules here twice already (mainly because I am a loud mouth and opinionated though 🀣).

These experiences have restricted the content I am prepared to post to the site. And that is from someone who works in a space where everyone has a problem with something somebody says and is highly charged with opinions and agendas. It is also from someone who does not have a disability so I can process that easily.

I have come to terms with that and understand now what is acceptable here (sorry DEV team for not being mature about that while I "settled in" to your expectations here by the way, I do think you are awesome even if our views are miles apart on some things! ❀) but someone else may not be able to process those interventions in the same way and end up excluded themselves.

In addition, if the "ableism" rule is enforced by anything other than the community itself I think anything other than code examples will just disappear from the conversation. And unfortunately there is still a lot of work to be done convincing people that accessibility is important (and why it is important) so those conversations need to happen. The conversations are more important than the occasional bit of unintended offence.

Maybe this is isn't the place for those conversations as they will always be charged, dangerous and likely to cause offence...but that would be very sad.

This was the whole point of my original comment, "this is dangerous ground, tread lightly" or even more precisely "do not intervene unless it is 100% clear that the intent was malicious or the word is certainly derogatory".

You may think that is common sense, but I have had an article removed where intent was certainly not considered, only that "some people can read this as offensive". For me that just caused some discomfort and frustration, for others that could be devastating.

On a final point - the Code of Conduct is at the very root of why this is one area I (and it seems many others) would prefer a hands off approach.

It is so heavily weighted towards group identities, which does not serve the disabled community well as disability affects everybody from all groups and has many intertwined groups.

You certainly cannot uphold the "reverisms" part as how do you weight that?

Is someone who uses a wheelchair "more disabled" than someone is blind? Who is "the most privileged" person in that conversation and how do you possibly make the right choice if one person is offended or feels unsafe.

It is especially dangerous when you consider cognitive impairments as someone may have preferred language or limited vocabulary that others deem unacceptable, but is the only language they use. By policing their language you are excluding them. What makes this 100 times harder is that you may not know if somebody has a cognitive impairment...unless you specifically ask (which is a terrible idea. please don't) you might do this without ever knowing!

This is an area where common sense alone is not enough, it is too broad, too complex and that is why I suggested a rules list.

It is the only reasonable way to enforce this if that is what the DEV team want to try and do. Otherwise just leave it alone and let the occasional offensive word slip into conversation and act purely when intent is obviously malicious.

Anyway, another essay in the comments it seems, I think in summary:

"A great article, just be very careful when suggesting trying to moderate language within the realms of disability and ableism."

Please write more on inclusive language choices, ableism etc. It is really important, just steer away from trying to moderate it (or at least don't talk about moderating it)...that is the dangerous part!

In fact your article has inspired me to write a post on this very subject. I think this is one of the few times that I will be asking for the DEV team to review it (and especially yourself) before posting as I would like it to be a guide to how to write inclusively that considers all of these aspects, but it is also likely to be an article that is flying close to acceptable for the site. When I have written it you will be the first to know as I would love to have your opinion!

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ellativity profile image
Ella (she/her/elle)

@inhuofficial , I understand your point (and can think of multiple examples in my own life of times when I've been corrected on behaviour and responded in an all-or nothing kind of way). I'm really glad you've found a way to reconcile that thinking with your participation here. Your perspectives are always valued, even if (maybe when?) the need arises for mods to ask you to make adjustments. As @michaeltharrington says above:

If you use a term on DEV that our moderators identify as ableist in nature, it does not make you a β€œbad” person and our goal is never to humiliate or alienate you for unintentional use of these terms. We simply share this information (or take steps to moderate an offending discussion or account) to maintain a healthy and safe environment for everyone here. πŸ™‚

If there's one take-home from his article above, I really hope it's this one.

Life is a series of adjustments, for some of us more than others. The DEV team is committed to maintaining a thoughtful approach to community moderation, and that means we welcome respectful conversations like this one. Thanks again for taking time to weigh in here and share your views. Looking forward to reading your next article!