Why the Word “Disability” Matters

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People First Language is described by Wikipedia as ‘a type of linguistic description in English to avoid perceived and subconscious dehumanizations when discussing people with disabilities’. It is now an accepted type of disability etiquette.

Person First Language has become the norm.  Instead of saying “disabled person”, the supposed correct lexicon is “person with a disability”. Instead of “deaf guy”, it’s a “man with a hearing disability”.

Problem is, that’s all bullshit.

Person First Language was created by those who do not have disabilities. It was created by workers in the disability field, employees of agencies, and indeed, moms and dads who thought it would be a better way to describe their children’s disability. As a result however they removed a vitally important piece of that individuals psyche. It also made that individual less. It reduced the individuals true identity.

Few of us with disabilities actually identify only as disabled. We are doctors, lawyers, retail workers, politicians and more. However we have a disability and although the disability doesn’t define us it does define an important part of who we are.

Person First Language morphed into something even more insidious. Changing the word “disability” into a myriad of cringe-worthy descriptions. “Differently abled” and my personal favourite, “handi-capable”. These descriptions serve one purpose, to help the non-disabled individual feel better about themselves while talking about those with disabilities

The word “disabled” isn’t a negative description. It is in fact an extremely important word that allows a disabled person to own their disability, it creates confidence and is damn empowering.

Those with disabilities often lack confidence and self esteem. That’s natural. However we make this worse and devalue that individuals worth by changing how we describe them. We also risk the fact that labels stick. Describing someone as handi-capable diminishes that Individuals worth and value to a very low level. You can’t own it and feel empowered when someone describes you with that term. You can’t be seen as a contributor to society with that descriptive terminology.

Person First Language is also responsible for some disability groups needless journey into bizarre descriptive terms within their own disability group. For example, in the deaf community (I am prepared for some backlash here) we have big “D” deaf, small “d” deaf, “oral deaf” , “late deafened” “hard of hearing ” and more.

There is nothing inherently wrong with those descriptions on the condition that the individuals align themselves with it. I find the term “hard of hearing ” ridiculous.  Terry Fox wasn’t hard of walking. He was disabled and he damn well owned it.

I identify as deaf but many in the deaf community argue with me that I am hard of hearing. This is where the problem lies. It’s their insecurity around wording, not mine. I can’t hear shit, I’m deaf plain and simple.

The time has come to take back what is rightfully ours, the word disabled. We identify as we see fit and those who prefer People First Language should carry on. Those without disabilities need to respect an individual’s decision on how they wish to be identified.

For me, I’m deaf and I am disabled. Feels mighty empowering

Say the word and say it loud

Be direct, be daring and be BOLD.

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