I think 'physically challenged' is the one that I hear most often. That and 'intellectually challenged' or 'mentally challenged'. I get what these things are trying to do - but that's the problem, these are words that are just trying too hard. Disability is. Disability will be. It's simple, accurate, and, for me, identity. I sometimes get lectures from people, mostly non-disabled, about how the 'dis' on the word is 'non validating'. Um, when sonmeone without a disability tells me with a disability how a word is supposed to make me feel, are they, in fact telling me what the word means in their mind - but I digress.
Over the last couple of weeks we've been watching the box set of a detective series, 'Inspector Lewis'. We've been enjoying it. On one of the episodes there is a character with a disability. I watched for how they would portray her in the plot line and how they would refer to her in the script. They were pretty good. She had a disability, they referred to the disability, the even called her a wheelchair user at one point.
There was a moment, when in frustration, Lewis, refers to this 'what do we call people with disabilities' thing and said, something like, 'I guess to me she's just differently normal.'
That sat in my head for a moment.
Here I need to say, do not misunderstand my meaning, I like the word 'disability', I use it. I am not a euphemism. However, I liked the attitude behind the 'differently normal' ... again, I'd never use this as a way to describe disability, but I liked the attitude. I think that because that's an expression that applies to every single person I know. Everyone is just slightly off center. I don't think that God ever intended to hit dead center on the genetics dart board. It seems to me that every person I know, I've got to make a bit of allowance for. And, trust me, I know, that every single person has to make allowance for me - and not because of my disability.
Difference is normal.
What a refreshing point of view.
I get so damned annoyed when people say 'oh, well, we all have a disability in some way'. It's not true and it's patronizing. More than that it takes away my community - makes disability issues, which are very specifically disability issues, somehow less relevant and certainly less compelling. It also takes away from me my history as a disabled person and trivializes my real sense of oppression by people who have those '
But understanding that difference is just part of normalcy, I was really good with that. I don't know who wrote the programme but it was simply a terrific episode of a terrific series. Joe and I are now beginning to incorporate into our personal lexicon the term 'differently normal'. Like, after an encounter with a really officious parking attendant the other day - Joe said, 'Ah, the world made richer by the differently normal.' I laughed. Then once when a guy was really, really helpful, in the kindest way possible, I said, 'Now that's the kind of differently normal you want to run into in your day.'
It's even helped me in teaching. The other day I taught an abuse prevention class and there was someone there who had difficulty sitting quietly, before that would have annoyed me as a teacher, but, hey she's just 'differently normal' ... that's just who she is and how she is. I know all sorts of people who can't sit quietly anywhere - and they always seem to go to the same movies as I do. So big deal, that's just how she's normal in a different way. Irritant was gone.
So, here's to being disabled and living in the world along with the 'differently normal'. Aye, there's the challenge too!