The Language of Disability

Not that long ago I didn’t consider myself disabled. Society had taught me disabled people were in wheelchairs, had some level of impaired mobility, or had moderate to severe cognitive disabilities. Sure chronic illness had completely taken over my life, but in my eyes I wasn’t disabled enough.

Fast forward to maybe nine months ago, I realized I was in fact disabled by my chronic illnesses and took on the label with pride. For me disabled is both a description of how chronic illness affects my life and a political label. I don’t have a problem with being referred to as disabled, because it’s true.

A lot of people however don’t seem to like the word “disabled.” When I was in high school I applied to become a “Best Buddy” which is a program where you befriend someone in the special education program. Fortunately or unfortunately for me (depending on how you look at it) they didn’t have enough special ed kids for all of the volunteers to have a buddy, so I never got one.

I did go to a training class after school one day, and something from it has stuck with me. They talked about how you shouldn’t ever say someone is disabled, instead say “a person with a disability, differently abled, or handi-capable.” The funny thing about the language of disability is I only see parents/caretakers asking people not to say disabled, never actual disabled people. I’m sure there are disabled people out there who don’t like the term, but I personally haven’t run across any. Many people take on the label with pride and try to advocate for themselves and others with disabilities.

I personally have a problem with the term “differently abled.” Disabled people aren’t differently abled, they are disabled. There are things we can’t do, point blank, end of story. For me some days I can do something and the next day I can’t, but there are also things that I’m never abled to do no matter the circumstances. “A person with a disability” isn’t offensive, I just find it unnecessary. The argument for the other side is that you should put the person before the disability. I feel you don’t have to take that literally. As long as someone is being respectful and isn’t  using a demonizing or belittling tone, then there isn’t anything wrong with saying “disabled people” or a “disabled person.”

Of course you should treat someone like a human being, and not reduce them to their diagnosis. However I don’t fid it necessary to say “person with a disability” every time you speak about disabilities. What are your thoughts? Do you use the term disabled to describe yourself?


13 thoughts on “The Language of Disability

  1. I agree! For me personally, it feels very invalidating when people won’t call me disabled. Like they don’t think my struggles are real.

    Please feel free to take a look at my post on perceptions of disability, I just wrote it and I think you would like it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. 👏👏👏 I hate when someone, almost always an abled person, goes out of their way to say “differently abled” or “person with a disability” because it makes it seem like being disabled is a bad thing. Like calling me what I am, a disabled person, is going to land them in hell for saying a bad word. I’m disabled, you can say it, I’m not going to bite you!

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I’m not disabled, but I’ve seen similar rhetoric used by my therapist. She was always telling me not to say “my OCD” or “my depression” or “my carpal tunnel” because I didn’t own this thing that happened. Instead, she wanted me to look at it like it was something that happened to me. But it IS still my OCD, my IBS, my whatever. It happens to me, yes, but it’s part of me. Pushing the label away doesn’t actually change my situation, and at the end of the day it’s just weird to say something like “the depression I have” instead of just “my depression”.

    Liked by 1 person

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