Repeat after me: Disabled is not a dirty word. Well done! And one more time: Disabled is not a dirty word.
Disabled people have been saying this for ages but for some reason Ables still refuse to listen and keep coming up with more and more convoluted euphemisms to avoid saying that someone is disabled. They claim to do this to avoid offending us but, in my experience, the only people who seem to be offended by the word disabled are able-bodied.
I don’t see you as disabled
When I was younger this was the highest compliment, anyone could pay me. It meant that I succeeded in fitting in, that I was good enough, so smart, funny, and lovely, that people around me forgot I am disabled. Isn’t that what every disabled person should want? To not be disabled, even if it only meant to not be seen as disabled? Actually, no. The idea that disability is inherently negative and disabled people must hate it is incredibly ableist.
“But how can you say disability isn’t negative? Disabled people have such a hard life!” It is not disability that makes our lives harder, it is ableism. It is because of ableism that it is hard to get the healthcare we need. It is because of ableism a lot of disabled people have a hard time accessing education, getting a job, or paying bills. It is because of ableism over 7,300 disability hate crimes were reported to the police across England and Wales in 2019/20, yet only 1 in 62 cases received a charge.
So yeah, I would very much like for ableism to disappear but not my disability. Disability is just part of my identity and in itself is neutral. Would you expect a black person to wish they were white? I hope not. And if yes, I am sure they would instead wish for you to stop being racist.
People who said they don’t see me as disabled were basically saying that they don’t see disabled people as smart, funny, or lovely. Some of them even used it as an excuse to ignore my needs and act shocked when I asked for accommodations: “What do you mean, you cannot do this without help? You shouldn’t let your disability stop you!” Ehm, my disability isn’t stopping me, your ableism is.
My needs aren’t special
Special needs? Are you referring to my need to only drink Colombian coffee with sweetened condensed milk? I guess that’s pretty special. Oh, you were talking about the need for my workplace to be accessible… Does that mean that you don’t need your workplace to be accessible to you? Could you walk in through the wall like Kitty from X-Men? Or do you simply prefer working on the sidewalk? Everyone has access needs. Mine just happen to include a lift.
Calling access needs of disabled people special is just an ableist excuse not to meet them. Furthermore, calling a disabled child “a special needs child” just dehumanizes them. It turns them into a sum of some complicated requirements that most able-bodied people refuse to deal with. “We won’t allow your child to study at our school, but it’s not discrimination, we just aren’t able to meet their special needs. Sorry.”
Differently abled, handicapable and other horrors
When it comes to euphemisms for the word disabled, they could fill a dictionary. On the internet I seem to stumble across a new one every other week.
New words and terms usually come about to describe something new or to describe something more accurately. As long as there have been people on this planet there have been disabled people. So, all those new terms didn’t spring up to describe a new phenomenon. Are they more accurate than the word disabled, then?
Let’s take a look on some additions that I heard recently:
Enhanced needs this is a variation on special needs that I have found in a job advert. We already established that my needs aren’t special and so this term isn’t accurate at all.
Non-normative abilities this one I got from a website for disabled migrants in Sweden. Normative means adhering to the rules or a norm. I don’t think that my ability to read five books at once and keep the storylines straight defies any laws, natural or societal. But even if it did, it has nothing to do with me being disabled. Not accurate.
Special abilities this one must be my personal “favourite”. Sia used it in an interview for her directorial debut Music, a movie about an autistic girl and her sister. I am disabled and I have a lot of disabled friends. None of us ever exhibited any superpowers or an affinity for magic, unless of course my friends hide their secret identities extremely well. Unfortunately, the special abilities Sia was referring to wouldn’t get us into Justice League. She was talking about our supposed ability to inspire Ables to be better humans and live their life to the fullest. I am not a life coach but if I was, I would tell Sia to stop being ableist. Not accurate.
If these terms aren’t accurate, why do able-bodied people insist on using them? They believe that disability is negative and consequently disabled must be a dirty word. None of that is true. Using convoluted ridiculous euphemisms to describe disabled people is infantilizing, dehumanizing, and insulting. Disability isn’t negative and presenting it as such doesn’t only hurt us it hurts you, too. One day you might end up disabled and instead of meeting your needs society will just call you special.
I am not an ableist. I use inclusive language
The reason why I personally hate these euphemisms is that it lulls Ables into a false sense of inclusivity. When I was studying journalism in Slovakia, I wrote an article about the inclusion of disabled students at my university for a regional media outlet. Spoiler alert: there was none. At the time there were only two disabled freshmen, and one of them was me. Although over the phone the inclusivity coordinator claimed to work with both he didn’t realize he was talking to one because he never met me before. This also meant that he didn’t realize I am disabled. He tried to lecture me about inclusive language which in his eyes consisted of not saying disabled while dodging all my questions about real inclusivity.
If you discriminate against us by refusing to provide accommodations, we need at school or at work it doesn’t matter what you call us you are still an ableist.
I don’t have a disability I AM disabled
Saying that someone has a disability instead of saying that they are disabled is another attempt to separate disability from a disabled person. Ables love to say that our disability doesn’t define us, but it does. It shapes our experiences, our outlooks, our relationships, and the way we interact with the world. That isn’t a bad thing. Disabled people are the largest minority in the world. Disability is an identity that carries within itself a rich culture and wonderful community I am proud to be a part of.
Disability isn’t a flu, it is an integral part of a person, and it can never be cured or taken away.
“Does that mean that disabled people don’t need medicine or science to help them?” Of course, we do. We need them to keep us alive and healthy as much as you do. But healthy doesn’t mean non-disabled.
I am disabled and I want you to call me disabled, but I do not speak for my entire community. If a disabled person tells you that they prefer a different term for themselves, don’t tell them, Kristina from The Once and Future Cripple said…. just respect their wishes.