Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A brief guide to The Language of Disability

This is designed to very briefly explain some of the words used to describe people who experience disability.

Disabled People

In the UK, we are usually referred to as disabled people. Many people feel this makes most sense within the context of The Social Model of Disability, which differentiates between impairment (our physical, intellectual, cognitive or psychological limitations) and disability, which we understand to be the practical, political and social barriers which stop us doing what we would otherwise be able to do.

We believe that disability is a societal experience that we are subject to, therefore we are disabled people.

People with Disabilities

In the US and Canada, it seems we are usually referred to as people with disabilities. The idea behind this is to put the people first and the disability second. In this context,
disability and impairment are essentially synonymous; disability is understood as a fundamentally medical or physical phenomenon.

So it makes sense to described say people with disabilities as opposed to disabled people in the same way a person with depression is far more dignifying than a depressive person. A medical condition ought not to define a person.

Handicapped People/ People with Handicaps

This word has been demonised among the disabled community in the UK, but some individuals prefer it because of its etymology; the idea that their limitations are necessary in order to make it fair for everybody else. People may also prefer it to disabled because of the way that disabled is used in other contexts. For example, in computer programming disabled means “off”, not currently functioning. Others prefer it because they wish to defy what they perceive as over-sensitivity on the part of some disabled activists.


I struggle to argue for this. I guess it is an attempt to neutralise difference or disadvantage; we are after all, all differently-abled in some way. Which poses the question, what is normally-abled? as it were.

However, I can’t help thinking of The Gospel of Disability Language According to Turtle that defines Differently-Abled as

“You can shoot milk through your nose, or lift weights with your todger. Or something. All those of you who walk a bit weird, like, aren't differently abled, you're crappily abled until someone SORTS THE BLOODY PAVEMENTS.”

Anything with the word “Challenged” or “Special” in it

I have never heard any disabled people refer to themselves as Challenged or Special. Fully prepared to be corrected, I would think that most disabled people find this sort of language patronising. Special, for example, was voted the 5th worst word in Ouch’s Worst Words survey.


Howard said...

Wow, great post. You know, I think I'll post the story of the disabled guy I dated (for whom I fell for pretty hard) for a couple of months on my blog. He was still coming to grips with his situation and I'm pretty sure, at the time, he didn't feel like he deserved to be with someone who accepted him as just a guy who was attractive both mentally and physically (the guy had arms to DIE for).

And then I'll link back to this post. Not that I need a reason to link back, but I figured it was a good chance to tell that story and the lessons I learned being with a person with disabilites.

And thank you for the add, too, that was very sweet of you. I'll return the favor as soon as I get into my template.

P.S. How did the shopping go?

imfunnytoo said...

I always just asked to go by the label "F***ing Inconvienced,"
but it never caught on.

PaulaO said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
PaulaO said...

"Heavily Medicated For Your Protection" is becoming my mantra.

Ever checked out The Nth degree? They have some hip crip stuff.

Chad McMillan said...

Nice blog. Although I am disabled-I rarely, if ever have written anything about it. Reading some of what you have--and checking out your links has been interesting. Perhaps one of these days I'll get around to sharing some thoughts. Keep it up...

kethry said...

When i was a child, growing up, it was always "hearing impaired" or "partially deaf", or any one of a number of terms designed to minimise my deafness, or my "hearing loss", as it might otherwise have been phrased. I'm in a slightly different situation to those who are Deaf and sign language users, in that my spoken English is good, and if my hearing aids are not visible, most people would not realise until i tell them. This makes my disability very much an invisible one - walking down the street, i look like everyone else - and so it was very much in my (hearing) parent's interests to minimise my disability with "hearing impaired" or "hard of hearing", which implies a small hearing loss, when in fact i'm profoundly deaf. Since i've become an adult i describe myself as being deaf - nothing more, nothing less, and i only lapse into more descriptive terms when i'm specifically asked how much i can hear.

*smiles* great blog, i'll be contributing (later) to BADD, and spreading the word. thanks for some thought provoking reading!


Anonymous said...

Bravo for your blog. I just read a very funny novel about hearing impairment by a writer who is deaf in his right ear. Try SWAP by Sam Moffie. You will like it.