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?


Kyle Davis said...

Out of all your blogs this is probably my favorite just because you bring up a question that goes against the grain of what most people hold self evident; Are "disabled" people really disabled? Or, are they just held back by the limitations of modern society? You really make a great point that "disabled" people are capable of doing almost anything, they just do things a different way. Now that I think about it, I am hard pressed to think of a single thing an able bodied person can do that a stereotypical "disabled" people can’t at least closely replicate. And this thought leads to perhaps my biggest unearthing yet; it is often said that when going from point A to point B the end product is not nearly as important at the trials and tribulations that you experience on your journey. This means that people who are "disabled" and are forced to do things differently are only better suited to handle the more serious task of life. The ability to adapt to any situation almost leaves me envious that my life isn’t better preparing me for the difficulties ahead; will I even be able to cope? I believe that the adversity and troubles that a “disabled” person has to go through every day thanks to modern society makes them stronger more independent people. When times get tough and life throws us a curveball perhaps we will find out that able-bodied people are actually the disabled ones.