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Crippen receives a request for a labelling cartoon from Australia / 19 May 2010

I've recently received an email from a Disabled equality trainer in Australia asking if she could use some of my cartoons about labelling within her courses. She hadn't come across the concept before and felt that it might help her to get across the equality message to both non-disabled and disabled Australians.

"No problem" I replied, and then began to wonder if other readers of this blog in other parts of the world were as ignorant of this concept as she was. With this in mind I've recreated a simple example and cobbled together some information about the subject for you.



The concept of labelling people, especially Disabled people has been with us since early times. Then we were made to wear labels that identified us as ‘witches’ or as the ‘familiars’ of bad spirits or ‘changelings’, or, if we were lucky, as the harmless village ‘dolt’ or ‘idiot’. Although if hard times came, such as a crop failure or something equally as harmful to the community, then the ‘idiot’ often became the 'scapegoat' and was disposed of to appease the gods.

As times progressed and society became more enlightened (Ed - our American readers should note the use of irony here!) we were seen more as figures of fun and were given the labels of ‘Jester’ or ‘Fool’. Those of us with mental health issues were also allowed to entertain the nobility, but were put on display in places like Bedlam and given the labels of ‘Mad’ and ‘Insane’ regardless of our actual condition.

We were also given the label of ‘villain’ in early children’s stories, usually with an eye or a limb missing, or labelled as the ‘weak’ or ‘needy’ character whenever sentimentality or charity were portrayed by such as Charles Dickens and other writers of his time.

Following the onset of the industrial revolution we were deemed ‘worthy poor’ and allowed to beg, and some argue that this is where the label of ‘handicapped’ (cap in hand) originated. The label ‘Invalid’ also appeared about this time and literally means ‘not valid’.

The medical professionals during the 19th and 20th century, deciding that we needed repairing brought with them their own labels. These ranged from the familiar ‘idiot’ to the ‘imbecile’, the ‘feeble minded’ and the ‘moral defective’. More labels followed as they began to split us into groups of impairment, resulting in 'Mongol’ and ‘Spastic’ to name but a few.

The more subtle labels remain to this day and are still used by those groups and organisations who wish to control us and wish to separate us from society. It is mainly the charities that rely upon the power of labelling, still portraying us as ‘vulnerable’ and ‘incapable’ amongst other disempowering descriptions. The medical profession also continue to play their part, although have changed some of their labels to appear more progressive; ‘Cerebral Palsy’ replacing ‘Spastic’ and ‘Down’s Syndrome’ replacing ‘Mongolism’ for example.

Remember, labelling people is about disempowerment and only works if the person who is given the label agrees to wear it.

Keywords: charities,disability professionals,disabled people's movement,discrimination,fiction,film,history of disabled people,labelling,mental health,psychiatry,social model,wheelchair users,young disabled people,



8 June 2010

I guess we will never get rid of words like invalid while big concerns such as Direct Gov and the DVLC continue to use statements such as 'How to I apply to register my class 3 invalid carriage' see

Ignorance at its highest level!


25 May 2010

Hi Dave,

I'm really surprised someone hadn't come across 'labelling' (especially a trainer) - even here in the Antipodes we know about stuff like that!

I used a couple of your cartoons in a training presentation I did the other day and as we discussed a while back have made a donation to a local disability group.

Thanks Dave - the cartoons are always great and really help get the messages across.



20 May 2010

Sometimes I like a label. But I get your point and I like the cartoon. I am not sure what "equality training" is.

Literature and movies/film still makes people with disabilities into stereotypes, as well as often making "the villain" have a physical or mental disability. In the U.S. politics, for over a hundred years that I know for sure, the opponent is often called "crazy" "loony" etc. We, the disabled are often made child-like.

Frieda Zames PhD, one of the founders of

Disabled in Action, wrote a book with her

sister on the history of disability activism in the US, "The Disability Rights Movement:From Charity to Confrontation", 2001, Temple Univ. Press,

Doris Fleischer & Frieda Zames.

One story she told, from the book, in a radio interview, was that before the turn of the century into the 20th century, the city of Chicago had "ugly laws". Disabled people could not be seen in restaurants in wheelchairs,etc.

Is it still true, as I heard a businessman interviewed, who had been in China for over a decade, ending in the 1990s, that people who are disabled can not attend college in China because "it doesn't look good"?

Politically activist groups, such as Disabled in Action, and ADAPT cross all labels which have been put on us by the medical profession. Having groups based on medical models/categories furthers labels, yet has positive aspects for individuals.

Some people take it to the extreme of not wanting to be called "disabled" and prefer euphemisms. Anne Emerman, one of the human rights/disability rights activists in the US (and from Disabled in Action) once said that when people with disabilities vote, politicians will take us seriously.


20 May 2010

Ha ha, a few can manage to pay me ... trouble is everyone is really struggling with the funding cut backs so if I can help anyone out during these trying times I'm only too pleased. I'm looking for a sponsor so if you're up for it Arty? Used fivers in a plain brown envelope would do it! ;-)

Arty Farty

20 May 2010

All I ever see is people asking you to do work for them Mr C. Do any of them ever pay you - if so you must be a millionaire by now?! :-)


20 May 2010

Sure thing Chris. Contact me at '' :-)

chris harrison

19 May 2010

Crippen I have just come from a meeting at the Nuffield Orthapedic Centre where a lot of Children are treated for Athritis and associated conditions . We are setting up an information web site for the youngsters and thought that cartoons would help in the web pages especially for the really young ones , would you be willing to help ?