Tuesday, March 31, 2015



It's a word.

Disability exists.

So 'disability' is a word for something that exists.

I'm not sure why that's such a hard concept for some to simply grasp. I've been hearing other words, Frankenwords created by someone, somewhere, who is so desperately uncomfortable with the reality of both the word, and the state of being implied by the word, disability.

We go through this time and again. 'Special needs' - their ain't anything special about my needs except societies and systems desire to deny them. Handicapable - my spell check correctly says this isn't a freaking word. Challenged - by whom to do what, it suggests that some great being comes down and says 'Live with THAT sucker!" Differently Abled - I am not differently abled, that implies I can fly or pronounce Welsh town names or see through buildings or understand the American electoral system, my abilities are perfectly ordinary ones.

The new words are even worse.

I'm not going to list them, I don't want, even in the slightest way, to promote them.

I just want to make it clear, I use the words disability and disabled because I have a disability and I am disabled. It seems very clear to me. I also, by the use of those words want to make the statement that I know who I am, I do not need to hide my self-hood under the shadow of a euphemism.

I've written about this before, and no doubt will write about it again. I find it odd that I'm more often chastized for how I describe myself and even, if you can believe this, the sequence of the words I use by non disabled people, and they are always in a huff. While I used 'person with a disability' at work cause I have to. Any other time I use 'disabled person.' Cause I am. Apparently this upsets the non-disabled who would rather I speak of myself in ways that have been deemed acceptable by the 'non-disabled office of how the disabled should speak of themselves.'


Sound it out.

It's a perfectly good word because, even in sunlight it casts no shadow of shame.


liz said...

When I was on the Community Services Board, we used "people with disabilities" because it put people first.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Hey Liz, I've heard that argument but it's only used for disabled people. I've not heard, person who is a woman, person who is gay ... It's seems that it's a solitary necessity to mention the personhoods of people with disabilities because we are so far from the human condition people need reminding. Yikes.

Antonia Lederhos Chandler said...

Differently Abled: "I can fly or pronounce Welsh town names or see through buildings or understand the American electoral system."
Hilarious! :-)

"The non-disabled office of how the disabled should speak of themselves." I like that.

Question: At work (SLS, 30 years), every few years, a new mandatory euphemism would come out. The last one we all took on was calling the people we served -- adults who had developmental disabilities -- "Program Participants", instead of "Clients." It started because someone was heard saying, "I'm only a Client".

At work, of course, I would call them the 6-syllable "Pro-gram-par-ti-ci-pants," instead of the 2-syllable, "Cli-ents." It seemed tedious.

Utter Randomness said...

I had someone tell me to refer to myself as "diffabled" instead of disabled...

Anonymous said...

I kind of like the "w/disabilities" format if only because it seems to me more open for further description. If pertinent, I'd rather describe myself as having or being with multiple disabilities than to say I'm multiply-disabled. I suppose the latter isn't wrong, as such, but it certainly doesn't fit in my vernacular.

Dave, iirc, you've written about times it's rankled you when you've found yourself referred to as "the wheelchair". Sad and disturbing, but I figure that's why person-first language is a thing.

AnyBeth said...

Sorry, I don't know what happened. Comment should be signed "AnyBeth". Will try here.

Ron Arnold said...

In an era of growing politically correct speech - I'm not surprised at the plethora of softening words that abound. I'm not even surprised that folks are telling you what you SHOULD say - even about yourself. No amount of willfulness can change reality.

Disabled sounds harsh to some - sounds factual to others. I don't find it denigrating myself - just conveying information.

Brief aside - sometimes I wonder if we'd be better off eliminating the suffixes "ity", "ize", and "ism" though. It'd kill off a few Frankenwords, effectively hobble some long-winded academic writers (yay!) and reframe some concepts more clearly.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me all this chatter about words is a shameful diversion from engaging with the issue that you describe: societies and systems desire to deny the needs of disabled people. When people comment 'but you're not Black, you're half Asian' I think they are denying my experience of racism.

Anonymous said...

I think I remember a similar argument about the word "retarded". I argued it is what it is. It is a medical term. You (Dave) felt quite strongly that it shouldn't be used.

I dislike being labelled disabled. I can do many things yet I am unable to perform to the same level of performance as before the accident. It is what it is. Words are limited at times to describe the whole meaning of the situation.
I rather think of myself has challenged. By what?? By my situation. By my limitations. By my mobility. By my loss. By my pain. I am indeed challenged. A challenge doesn't have to come from a person. As you say, it is what it is.

clairesmum said...

Language is tricky. In Massachusetts we had a shift to calling elders "consumers" instead of "clients" of agency services. I always thought it was a misnomer as your location determined which agency provided services to you - you could not choose to take your business elsewhere, as you do in a consumer/customer role. The language came from the developmental disability community, in which the disabled were labeled 'consumers' instead of 'patients." Well intended, perhaps..but always made the whole business sound like a shopping mall.

Anonymous said...

I have seen the phrase "people with SSA (Same-sex attraction)" used by religious groups. As an out lesbian I found it very insulting and condescending, but there are LGBT people who identify as "people who struggle with SSA", and I think choosing to self identify that way shows how they feel about themselves in relation to the LGBT community.

I think disabled /person with disabilities thing is the same kind of thing. There are disabled people who identify as people with disabilities and they have a right to self identify that way. I identify as disabled.

purpletta said...

In reply to Anonymous at 2:18...
I agree with Claresmum that language is trick and agree with a few others who have said that people who are making a choice for themselves of words they choose to identify with absolutely have that right. However I strongly feel this is so completely different from the conversation about the R-word. The R-word at one point may have been simply a medical term; today it is not. The word quickly took on a stigmatizing and hurtful spin. The connotation of that word was far more than it being just what it is. It became a cruel and demeaning word that was aimed at a group of people who were already set apart.
But what also separates that conversation from this is the notion of who has a voice in the discussion. In the case of the R-word, the word was created by others and used to stigmatize a group of people who were not ever asked, whose opinion was not valued, and realistically a group of people in many cases believed not even to have an opinion. This is terribly untrue of course, but the reality is that it's only people who aren't stigmatized by the R-word who continue to try to make a case that there's nothing wrong with it. Thankfully people who do have intellectual disabilities have fought long enough and hard enough for their voices to be heard in order to make this change occur, such that the language used to refer to people with intellectual disabilities now meets the definition of basic respect. People who have disabilities have a right to say they'd like to be called disabled people....or whatever the individual chooses. The term 'people with disabilities' will continue to be needed at times in our society, until we end up in a place in which there is agreement that people are people are people...that disability doesn't detract from my personhood. We will continue to need to use person-first language until we get to a place at which it is accepted by all in society that we are all people, that we all deserve respect as people, that we all deserve to live together, work together, play together in society...

Anonymous said...

Personally, I don't like the term disabled, it actually makes me think of someone who is unable, and that's not the case for many people in wheelchairs, but I get that we have to put a "label" on people, as sad as that is. Why can't people just say "yeah my legs don't work, or... I broke my back and now I'm screwed?!?! I like the term wheelchair user, because its factual and doesn't suggest that you're unable. But hey I'm not in a wheelchair so how could I ever know what the correct term to use is.

Kelly said...

I generally use people first language, like person with a disability, unless someone tells me they prefer me to use a different term when referring to them. Like, I know several autistic people that prefer to be called autistic than a person with autism. I think we should call people whatever they prefer to be called. However, when I don't know what term a person prefers, I feel like "person with a disability" is probably safest, least likely to offend, even if it's not their preferred term.

I have a friend that uses the term "handi-capable" and I hate that. It sounds like some sort of super hero or something. I am not handi-capable. I am just capable. Capable of something, not of others, just like everyone.

Anonymous said...

If we could accept the person wearing the label, we wouldn't need new labels.

Wendy Knowlton said...

Dave, I just listened to a TED talk by Stella Young and thought of you. Then, I came to your blog and realized you have her listed here. Very cool.


Ruti Regan said...

This is related to something I've been thinking about: when therapists, or group home staff, or whoever, tell people who live in those places that they're not allowed to say the r-word.

I think people who have called that word have every right to say it, and to define their own relationship to it.

And trying to prevent them from doing that is the opposite of respectful.