Just Say the Word, Disability!

No, “disability” is not a bad word.

No, having a disability is not shameful.

No, disability does not mean being “less than”.

No, disability does NOT mean a complete inability to do things. It only means, needing to do things differently from everyone else.

No, it does not mean that your life loses value. Disabled lives are LIVES WORTH LIVING.

Claiming the disability label for yourself or for your children and other loved ones is NOT a form of “giving up”. It doesn’t mean that you stop working toward greater autonomy, improved abilities, integration into society, or a more fulfilled life. It just means, acknowledging that you may need to do things differently. Sometimes accepting a disability can be an important step toward achieving your life goals. You can’t imagine away limitations, but you can imagine how to work around them.

Claiming the disability label can be an act of pride. Many disabled warriors have fought for everything from the right to ride public transportation, to attend school, to have the same access to information and communication as everyone else, and more. Even if you’re not disabled, then you have still benefited from our advocacy. Every curb cut you’ve ever used for your baby stroller, every line of captions that enables you to understand television in a noisy bar, and many more things are there because we fought for them.

If you’re worried about “appropriating” the term from people who need it? If you are worried that your difficulties are too “minor” to “count”? If you think the best way to show respect for disabled people is to disclaim the label? Please relax. Most of us want MORE people, not fewer, to feel entitled to identify with the word “disability”. Even people who experience different degrees of difficulty may still share a common need for accessible environments and respect for our value as human beings. You’re not taking anything away from us by claiming the identity. On the contrary: you are identifying common ground that lets us work together toward common goals.

If you still believe disability isn’t an accurate descriptor for you? Or if you need to think about it more first? You have a right to define your own identity. You do you.

But please, have the courtesy to disclaim the label in a way that doesn’t imply that being a person with talents, autonomy, and value as a human being is somehow a contradiction to being also a person with disabilities.

And, please, learn what the term means before explaining why it doesn’t fit. If you say you’re not disabled because there are so many things you can do, then you haven’t understood what it means. If you say you’re not disabled because you “only need to do things differently,” then you have just given the definition for what “disability” means. Wouldn’t it feel silly to learn that your explanation for disclaiming the label instead explains why you have a right to claim it after all?

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