Support trigger warnings for the disabled

Trigger warnings are a matter of disability, not of “offensiveness.”

I have post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s very common. The difference between being offended and being triggered is enormous, and treating them as the same thing is as stupid as it is ableist.

If I have an episode in public, I’m not just disrupting myself; I’m disrupting my classmates too. I can’t stop myself from having one — whereas if I’m offended, it’s my own fault if I bother someone.

Trigger warnings are a way of communicating about things that commonly cause a reaction in people with PTSD (and other mental illnesses) in the same way that allergen warnings communicate about things that commonly cause a reaction in people with allergies.

I’ve avoided taking certain classes because I knew there would likely be triggering content in them that was key to understanding the material. That’s best for everyone — there are plenty of other courses, and the professor doesn’t have to deal with my special needs. But you can’t do that if you don’t know what classes have that content. Withdrawing from classes shows up on your transcript; contacting professors or former students before taking classes and disclosing details of your disability can be embarrassing for people who aren’t open about that.

I don’t expect people to write a novel about what kind of content I can expect to deal with, nor do I expect people to avoid talking about content that’s potentially triggering to me. It doesn’t have to do with anyone’s beliefs — the same type of content is triggering coming from a liberal or a conservative.

Are there people who exploit trigger warnings to avoid content that offends them? Probably. That doesn’t make serving the mental health care needs of people with PTSD and other mental illnesses less important, both for disabled people and for their classmates.

People with disabilities aren’t looking to be coddled. We’re just looking for the information we need to make informed decisions about what we can and can’t do.