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?

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