* Disclaimer: These are my personal views on the topic and they cannot and should not be taken as being universal to everyone in the Disabled Community. *
Given that I was born with a disability, I’ve never known life any differently. It’s happening a lot less frequently now but I used to get asked by people something a long the lines of “Isn’t there a cure for it?” or “If you could, would you get rid of the disability?”. The answer to the first question is a flat out “no” given current medical science. The answer to the second, however, is a little less clear-cut. Yes, disability comes with its own challenges but, then again, it’s all I’ve known. To change that, then, would be to change everything I know about myself and the world around me and, challenges aside, I’m quite happy with my life.
This same conundrum is brought up when someone hears I’m in a wheelchair and almost reflexively jumps to “I’m sorry” type responses. Yes, I understand why you’d say this in terms of the challenges that I face on a daily basis but, at the same time, those challenges have always been a part of me, it’s all I’ve known. While it would be nice to make some things easier, they’re no harder than they’ve always been, no harder than I’ve expected them to be. Since I’ve grown up with my disability guiding the way I do things in life, my disability is not so much a hindrance that affects me as it is a defining part of my identity as a person.
‘Disabled’ v. ‘Differently-Abled’
While I’m on the topic of Disability and Identity I think it’s time for me to shed some light on the terminology and how I see/use them in case some people may take offense to the way I use certain words or phrases. Given that this is an account of my personal experiences I think it’s only fair that I use terminology, both here and throughout the blog, that reflects my personal views towards terminology etc. in the Disability World. That said, some people disagree with me on some/all of these points (and that’s fine) so please be wary of which terms you use around people. There are only three terms I want to draw your attention to (this far): ‘disabled’, ‘handicapped’, and ‘people with disabilities’.
The first, and perhaps more ‘controversial’ one for lack of a better word, is ‘Disabled’ versus ‘Differently-abled’. Personally, I prefer ‘disabled’ for the simple reason that it is (a) the first term I was introduced to on the topic and, (b) I don’t see the term as derogatory in the way some people I know do but that’s just me. While a word like ‘handicapped’ I used to take great offense to when I was younger but, after high school I stopped finding as offensive for two main reasons
Why is ‘handicapped’ such a common term?
While a word like ‘handicapped’ I used to take great offense to when I was younger but, after high school I stopped finding as offensive for two main reasons: I studied French in high school and the French word for disabled is simply ‘un handicap’ and, secondly, it’s an accepted term in both golf and croquet (the latter being something I grew up with seeing as my father plays it and I’d spend some time watching the game although never playing it myself) which simply helped to illustrate the player’s ability. Yes, it can suggest that a person is limited in some way but, in truth, aren’t we all? It just so happens that a significant limitation of mine happens to be my balance. That said, it is not a term that I’d use myself or, where avoidable, like people to use in reference to me because I understand the stigma that can be associated with it but I can understand why people might use it and I don’t get as angry about its use as I used to.
‘Person with a Disability’ v. ‘Disabled Person’
Thirdly and finally, ‘Disabled People’ or ‘People with Disabilities’. I’d have to go with ‘Disabled People’ every time. Why? By using ‘People with Disabilities’ you distance the disability from the person both in your use of language and in practice. Maybe this view on is a product of my being born disabled but the way I see it, my disability as helped shape my identity and who I am as a person. To distance the disability from me, then, as if it was something I ‘caught’ like a disease feels as though you’re suggesting my disability (something intrinsic to who I am) is somehow wrong or needs ‘fixing’ rather than you letting me identify as a Disabled Person.
I know that some people feel differently about this and they are entitled to see it that way but, at the same time, it is not how I see it and we are going to have to agree to disagree. If you’re unsure as to which a disabled person prefers to use, there is no harm in asking. Remember, though, that things like this are deeply personal so respect whichever answer they give you.