Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Musing on the Word "Disabled"

....or "The Social Model in A Nutshell".

Lately I've been musing a lot on the language used to describe myself or other people in regards to ability/lack thereof. Let's face it, there is no good word to describe us. I regard all of them as fairly horrible, with some being less horrible than others. So in that regard, I usually use the word "disabled" or some variation of it. But what does "disabled" really mean?

According to (which is my savior on all things word-related), the word "disable" means "to make unable or unfit". But we're not unable to do things, we just do things in a different way. We are still able to move, eat, breathe, and do all the functions of daily living - just differently. Even those of us who need personal care attendants are still doing all those things - they're just having someone else help them do those things.

By contrast, society's barriers are what makes us unable to do things. When a building has steps, but no ramp, wheelchair users are unable to get into the building. When textbooks are not provided in an alternate format, blind people and other PWDs who use textbooks in alternative formats are unable to read the textbook. But with reasonable accommodations, we are able to do everything AB people can do. So are we really disabled? Or, perhaps more appropriately, what is it that disables us?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Up De-nial River Without A Paddle that was bad. Please forgive me for what I'm sure is the poor quality of this post. Given the events of the past few weeks, I'm shocked I managed to pull together a coherant post for the September Disability Blog Carnival at all. I really wanted to write a post about my changing identity now that I'm a college student with a disability instead of a high school student with a disability. That was before I left. However, when I got here, it was a bit like being plunged into freezing cold water - utterly shocking and totally unexpected in more ways than one. To say I've been having adjustment problems is an understatement. Things have gotten better for me but they're by no means all better. Someday I will write that post about my new college identity, but it's going to take awhile before I can look back on these events with a clear, rational head. So please bear with me and try to enjoy this post.

"I don't consider myself disabled". I see this phrase a lot in the news, especially when it's a young person with a disability. The ironic part is, the article is almost always about their disability, whether it's a discrimination story or a "heroic super-crip climbs mountains" type story. This line is frequently accompanied by "I'm just like anyone else.", which I hate even more.

How utterly boring. Why would you want to be just like anyone else, first of all? It's ironic that our culture emphasizes diversity and the "big melting pot" way of thinking, and yet people feel this intense pressure to conform to the norm. A line like "I'm just anyone else." is frequently inserted at the end of an article, I guess to leave readers thinking that PWDs are just like everyone else, which just annoys me. See my previous post on the topic, I think for the February DBC??

Second of all, you do have a disability. If you have an impairment that prevents you from doing "one or more major life activity" or makes it difficult to do said activities, THAT IS A DISABILITY. I don't think I can spell it out any clearer than that. And THERE IS NOTHING BAD ABOUT THAT. Having a disability is hard at time, I will be the first to admit that, especially after the past few weeks. But it's not a horrible experience. At times it is even beautiful. And it really shapes who you are. People act like denying their disability deserves some badge of honor, when it's really very destructive. Not only are you denying a fundamental part of your identity, you are also denying yourself services that could help you. And taking services doesn't make you lazy or less - it makes you able to be a functional human being. It makes you able to do the same things as able-bodied people. It's leveling the playing field, for god's sake! If you deny your disability, then you shouldn't complain when things are hard for you.

Another one I heard on TV the other night when I was watching a special on progeria, a disability that causes rapid aging, so that kids look like they're about eighty when they're about five. It's very sad because these kids don't usually live past the age of 13 or so. But that's not the point. Anyway, one of the girl's parents in the special said, basically: "When I look at her, I don't see progeria." And that annoys me.

Am I being too nit-picky here with my distate for words/phrases? I agree that disability shouldn't be all you see, but it's gotta be part of it, especially if you are visibly disabled/different. Yeah, you see the person, but the disability is part of the person, just like brown hair or blue eyes is. You wouldn't say "When I look at her, I don't see brown hair." would you? That would be ridiculous. You see the brown hair as part of the whole person. Same with disability - it is a part of a whole.

The thing with these phrases that I don't get is that this denial is tacitly applauded and even encouraged. When someone says "I don't consider myself disabled" or "I'm just like everyone else", they are generally lauded over how much they've overcome their disability (another phrase/stereotype I want to bash to pieces - a disability is not something to be overcome, it is something to be worked with to find alternate ways of doing things) and isn't that so great. Which, of course, reinforces the stereotype that a disability is a shameful, evil thing to have and it should be hidden and suppressed whenever possible. And of course it is those images of disability that make it into the media, rather than the images of disability pride and culture.

Seriously. I implore you. Don't deny your disability. You don't have to love it. You don't have to be into disability culture. You can even hate it. But when you acknowledge it, you are admitting that there is something that makes it harder for you to do certain things, and that that is okay. There is nothing bad about disability. If we were all "out of the closet", so to speak, maybe disability wouldn't be such a taboo topic in our society.