You can't have a discussion without the appropriate words. A truism, but important to really understand. Many gay activists feel that proper discussion about homosexuality wasn't possible before the word heterosexuality was widely known. The word cissexuality, the opposite of transsexuality, is still known by very few. This shortage has a surprisingly large effect on how people view and perceive transsexuality and gender roles as a whole. "The opposite of autist", neurotypical, is spreading out nicely especially on the Internet.

In Finland very few people know the word ableism. If you use it, many think you're just trying to show off with fancy, obscure vocabulary, let alone that people would try to figure out what the word means. At the time of this writing the Finnish Wikipedia did not even mention this word outside of an article about audism, even though there is an article about "discrimination of the disabled".

In absence of that word the actual issue doesn't get discussed very much. (Just how old-fashioned does it sound to talk about "racial discrimination"?) For some reason in Finland all kinds of discrimination tends to get labeled as "racism" - from "age racism" to "racism against gays". Not that there is much discussion about speciesism (one thing which really requires the word to exist as a concept) or transphobia.

The Finnish disability vocabulary as a whole isn't doing terribly well. You still see the word "invalid" very often [including the name of the only well-known disability organization in Finland]. Recently an article in a tabloid discussed a "wheelchair-bound cripple" [note that using the term "wheelchair-bound" in Finnish makes it sound even more like someone has been literally tied to his wheelchair!]. At this point a disabled person goes to check his calendar to see which millennium it supposedly is - though a Google search of "wheelchair-bound" in Finnish finds over 1,000 hits.

Whereas the opposite of gay is hetero and the opposite of trans is cis, the opposite of disabled in English is (temporarily) able-bodied or AB or TAB. In Finnish you would say that someone is "healthy-bodied", which isn't really the same. There is a proposed Finnish translation of "crip", but it hasn't really caught on. I can't really imagine Maria, the main character of my novel, using that word.

Finnish doesn't even have a good translation for "fatigue". Personally I prefer to use a word that means something like exhaustion (in both my medical writing and informal contexts), but even most doctors cannot understand the difference between fatigue and tiredness/sleepiness [a problem certainly not absent in English, but even worse in Finland]. Oh, and depending on whom you ask I have either chronic fatigue syndrome [which, predictably, translates to more like "chronic tiredness syndrome" in Finnish] or myalgic encephalomyelitis (both G93.3). Big difference.

Some of those suffering from chronically fatiguing illnesses have adopted the word "spoonie", which refers to the so-called spoon theory, in which the chronically ill have a certain amount of "spoons" (energy) in use for a day and when they run out, there's none left to use. Spoonie is a snappy, cutesy name, which doesn't make you think of cripples, but most people wouldn't have any idea of what it means and personally I have never liked the spoon theory at all.

Even in English the disability vocabulary is far from set in stone. Some people think the proper word to use is "disabled person" (the social model of disability: the society has "disabled" the person), others insist on "person with disabilities" (person first: the disabilities are just attributes). Both have a point. The most "politically correct" (eww) don't like the word disability at all, but use "differently abled". Others write "disABILITIES" which I find looks silly.

I have done my part in creating a new word for Finnish and English alike: cripfic. It refers to disability fiction, which is represented by my first novel Marian ilmestyskirja [Maria's Book of Revelations, info page in English] and two of my upcoming novels. Some people have expressed dislike for that word, mostly of course those who don't realize that the word "crip" is used in disability circles in a similar fashion to gays using "queer". Neither word is liked by everyone, but others readily identify with them.

My husband first thought that cripfic was a joke, he thinks it crosses the border to overgenreizing. He's right that excessive genreizing is often silly, especially in the music world (a music journalist speaking here...) but genres do have a function. We might not see a cripfic shelf at Barnes & Noble any time soon, but it's easier to talk about "cripfic" than "fiction with disabled people", just as talking about "fiction with elves and unicorns" is not very convenient.

Only a small tip of the iceberg in societally important issues ever ends up being topics of public discussion. Lacking the appropriate words is not going to make it easier.