Why I am Not ‘Differently-abled’

More and more these days, there is a growing need for political correctness – be it with respect to race, sexuality, gender, or disability. The shift from the archetypal, misogynistic, narrow-minded approach is a movement I wholeheartedly support. To support a changing paradigm, though, does not exclude you from being able to disagree with elements that develop as a result of the emerging paradigm. The use of the term ‘differently-abled,’ which is gaining popularity in the Cape Town Disabled Community if not internationally as one of the alternatives to ‘disabled,’ is something I disagree with. Before you delete the website and stop reading the blog, at least give me the next couple of minutes to outline why it is I find myself repeatedly disagreeing with the shift from ‘disabled’ to ‘differently-abled.’

While I might not agree with the term, there is a lot to be said for the ‘differently-abled’ argument. One of the strongest arguments I’ve heard in its defence, in fact, was that it acknowledges the different strengths and weaknesses in individuals, thereby highlighting what disabled individuals can do rather than what they can. The reason behind the term – as a way of highlighting what one can do as opposed to what they can’t – is something that I like about it. The problem, for me, comes primarily in the fact that while it acknowledges the strengths versus weaknesses argument, ‘differently-abled’ does not do enough to acknowledge the significant physical, emotional, and psychological limitations that a disability places on an individual just by the nature of its existence. These added limitations can be, and often are, severely limiting and disabling to the individual they effect. While I personally prefer ‘disabled’ as it does not shy away from the negatives that are natural attributes of the phenomenon, I really do appreciate the way in which ‘differently-abled’ emphasises the positive attributes of an individual. While ‘differently-abled’ might highlight the positive attributes of a person, I do not feel that the term is sufficient enough to communicate the dramatic impact of disability. For me, ‘differently-abled’ just sugar-coats disability a little too much for my taste.

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Ableism: An Ideology of Misunderstanding Than of Discrimination

As anyone even vaguely tied to the Disabled Community, or who just has an interest, would be aware: ableism is a very real, commonly-occurring phenomenon. I just googled the definition of the word ‘Ableism’ and got a whole lot of links to dictionary definitions about how it is ‘discrimination against disabled people.’ Personally, I don’t like this definition and I have one fundamental reason: it’s too specific.

When you hear ‘discrimination’ images of demarcated seating or something similar undoubtedly appeared. While disabled people often face being discriminated against, I feel referring to Ableism as discrimination towards them is too narrow-minded. Ableism, to me, isn’t Discrimination but Misunderstanding.

I’ve often heard that Ableism can be unconscious. I agree. That said, I think that in order to truly discriminate against someone there has to be conscious of it on some level. Yes, a person’s behaviour might lead to a feeling of being discriminated against even though that wasn’t the person’s intention. Since, for me at least, discrimination has to fundamentally stem from intent one cannot have entirely positive intentions and still be seen a discriminatory. From my standpoint, then, is that discrimination can be a form of Ableism but Ableism is not a form of discrimination.

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Disabled Parking: Small Incident, Big Ideological Problem

Maybe it’s just me but I like to think that people are not intentionally vindictive beings who set out to make other people’s lives more difficult but, the reality is, that it happens far more than we’d like to admit. From a wheelchair-user’s perspective, one of the ways I see this happening a lot is in disregard for Disabled Parking Bays.

I don’t know how many times I’ve come across Disabled Bays being used illegally. To be honest, it is difficult to understand exactly why this is so common giving how aware a lot of societies are on other issues. Is it that people don’t understand why they exist? Don’t they care? Yes, something like “he’s in my spot” is trivial but I still think it is worth condemning the action as it speaks to the larger issue that is Ableism.

While it is a requirement in several countries that parking areas have allocated Disabled Parking, I don’t think the reasoning behind their existence is adequately explained if at all. In my opinion, there are 2 main reasons for their existence: Safety and Access.

Reasons for a Disabled Bay’s Existence

Safety

I’m sure it goes without saying that, in most cases, wheelchair-users are lower than the average, ambulatory person by the very fact that they are seated. The height difference, in a parking scenario, can lead to potential dangers. To put it frankly, it is harder for drivers to see us.

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