Disability: how is it that one word can create so many negative connotations? Why do we act like disability is a bad word, inappropriate, maybe even degrading? It’s a word. It only holds negative power if you let it.
Many people argue that people with disabilities are just people, so why do we need to say they have a disability? Because to put it bluntly, they have a disability.
While their disability does not define them, it is part of them. It does affect them and has shaped their life. By saying they shouldn’t be called a person with a disability, you are erasing part of their identity. You are denying a part of what makes them who they are.
Perhaps the word “disability” brings too much focus to what someone can’t do, as opposed to what they can do. But negative words only hold power if you let them.
Let people with disabilities self-identify themselves however they want. Whether it’s disabled, challenged, handi-capable, or a person with an exceptionality, let them use what is empowering to them.
There are accessibility activists and advocates in the United States who have embraced the word “crippled.” They use it as a word of empowerment, as opposed to a bad, inappropriate word.
Mark Wafer, former Tim Horton’s franchise owner, recipient of the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship, Canadian Disability hall of fame inductee and keynote speaker, identifies as deaf and disabled. He emphasizes that his disability does not define him as a person, but is part of who he is. He thinks that when you use words like “handi-capable,” you remove the empowerment from words like “disabled” or “disability.”
Lisa Kelly is Director of Training at Canadian Business SenseAbility, a company that helps businesses become more accessible. She did not disclose what her disability was, but she identifies as a person with a disability. She says using the term helps clarify what she is talking about. To Kelly, it is the easiest, most direct way to say you are talking about your abilities.
Having a disability does not make anyone any less of a person, but how they self-identify can empower them and make them confident in their disabilities or exceptionalities. Their disability does not define them but it is part of them and has shaped their worldview. Their disabilities make them unique, innovative and strong.
Let’s stop pretending that disability is a bad word and start recognizing people with disabilities as people of strength, determination and a fierce sense of self.