Laying it Out: Strong Language

A comic by Antara Telang.

Photograph of the author, Antara, surrounded by a cartoon frame, with devil’s horns and a moustache doodled on her face. Text reads: Hi. I’m Antara. I’m 25 years old. When I was 18, I had an accident that turned me from non-disabled to disabled overnight. Panel B: Illustration of a prosthetic leg. Text reads: I have an amputation now, and I wear a prosthetic leg. Yes, I have, in fact, been called a cyborg on multiple occasions. Panel C: Illustration of two similar looking people. One is smiling while the other looks sad. Text reads: Like me, many people with disabilities have experienced that casual language used to describe us can be painful, to say the least. Take my friend Dev.

Panel A: Illustration of two legs with rolled up jeans. One foot is straight, the other is dropped at a slight angle. Text reads: Dev had a neurological disease called GBS (Gullian Barrie Syndrome) when he was 13, leaving him with a foot drop even as an adult. Panel B: Illustration of the torso of a bald, middle-aged man with devil’s horns and trident. Text reads: His professor, to his face, called him a ‘langda ladka’ (a ‘lame boy’). Dev was hurt beyond belief when he was referred to this way by someone he respected. Panel C: Illustration of a young man who is sweating and looks worn out. Text reads: He worked himself to the bone so that he’d be known by his name and not as ‘langda’. He shouldn’t have to do that. Most of us don’t.

Photograph of Antara in the cartoon frame again, except this time there are tears doodled over her face which form waves of water below. Text reads: I know what it feels like. Things that people have said in passing have ended up affecting my self-esteem for years. Panel B: Illustration of a woman wearing a short dress that reveals one prosthetic leg. She is smiling and has her hands on her hips. Text reads: Heli, who also has an amputation, was once wearing a knee-length dress. A stranger gave her some unwanted advice: ‘These things are not meant to be shown off.’ Panel C: Illustration of a young woman smiling slightly and looking to one side. She is showing the middle finger. Text reads: As women with disabilities, we hear shit like that all the time. So we usually either ignore it or ask people to mind their own business.

Illustration of a pair of jeans with a sad face. It has a thought bubble of a short skirt. Text reads: But sometimes, it can play on our minds for a long time, and maybe the next time, we wear jeans instead of that skirt. Panel B: Illustration of a graduation cap that’s placed on top of a paper that has the words ‘Certificate of Sensitivity’ written on it.Text reads: Heli chooses to educate people who make ignorant comments like that, so that they (hopefully) don’t do it again. Panel C: Photograph of Antara with doodled steam coming out of her ears, an angry expression, fangs, and the word ‘WTF!’ on one side. Text reads: Personally, I snap and end up sulking through that day. I don’t think it’s my job to tell someone to behave with respect. I am not sure there’s a right answer here.

Illustration of the Tinder flame logo and the text ‘You have five new matches!’ above it. Text reads: In my personal experience, most people assume I’m single. Because who’d want to be with me? As it turns out, quite a number of people. Panel B: Illustration of a diamond ring with a shocked expression and both hands on its cheeks. Text reads: Savitri has a disability too. She got married recently, and found several guests at the wedding openly expressing their surprise. Panel C: Illustration of two faces looking at each other. There are hearts between them, and both are smiling broadly. Text reads: Not because she was getting married. But utter shock that her husband was ‘young, good looking and non-disabled’. We’re not reject products, guys!

Illustration of a man smiling and speaking. He has a speech bubble which has no words inside it, only a drawing of a garbage can. Text reads: A lot of times, when we joke, we tend to say ableist stuff. It’s so deeply embedded in language that, yes, people with disabilities do it too. Panel B: Illustration of the same man as the above panel — he is laughing so much that tears are coming out of his eyes. The words ‘HAHA!’ and ‘ROFL!’ are written around him.Text reads: ‘That joke is so lame!’ ‘Are you retarded?’ ‘He won’t understand, he’s dumb.’ Panel C: Photograph of Antara looking directly at the viewer. For the first time, there is nothing doodled on her face. Text reads: Take a step back. You may say something in passing, but it contributes to an ableist culture & to the lowered self-esteem of people with disabilities everywhere.

Disclaimer: Names have been changed to protect people’s privacy.

Antara is a Content Director at LaughGuru, an e-learning platform for kids. In her spare time, she backpacks, illustrates, and leaves feminist comments on Facebook posts.