Tag Archives: Terminology

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 defense, 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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Terminologies & Apologies

* 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’.

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