With each generation language evolves, & one of the driving factors behind this change is the words we use to describe each other. While the n-word was once a common term for people of colour, most white people today will never let the word pass their lips. When I was at school, we were taught not to use the term faggot due to it’s homophobic connotations. Finally, it seems that the focus has shifted onto how we talk about disability.
Disabled people frequently refer to themselves as disabled. I mean, you are currently reading Diary of a Disabled Person (for which I thank you). We are comfortable with the word disabled as it hasn’t been used as an insult very often, & it neatly describes the vast range of conditions & characteristics that can render someone disabled. However, most “ableds” seem to disagree. They think that referring to ourselves as disabled is demeaning and belittles us, when in actuality, denying us the right to determine how we are described for ourselves is far more belittling.
So, if we’re not supposed to call ourselves disabled, what do we say? Differently abled is a common suggestion, although my personal favourite is access inclusion seekers. Both of them are long-winded & can hardly be said to roll off the tongue, & the former implies that no matter what resources are made available to me, I simply cannot function on their level. The latter is just an excuse to be inaccessible given that, if everywhere were accessible & inclusive, we would have nothing to seek.
It should also be noted that I’ve already purchased the domain name Diary of a Disabled Person, and I had the word disability permanently etched onto my skin (along with some other words).
More specifically to those of us who have wheels, it is still common to hear wheelchair-bound being used to describe us. Bound has lots of problematic connotations, such as being limited by our wheelchairs, or perpetuating the stereotype that all of us are paralysed from the waist down & cannot walk or stand at all. The term wheelchair-user is significantly preferred by those of us who use them, but we are shouted down as we couldn’t possibly know for ourselves what we want.
If the reluctance to use the word disabled wasn’t bad enough, there are words still in use that generations of disabled people have said are unacceptable. Spaz. Cripple. The R-word. More recently, idiot, a term that I still find slips out far more often than I’d like. These are the words with offensive connotations that we want people to stop using, yet this is ignored and the term we want is denied to us. Is there anything more patronising than out desires being over-ridden in favour of someone who knows nothing about our realities?
If people want to support the disabled, they need to start by listening to us. They need to start respecting our wants and needs. They need to stop condemning things which shouldn’t be condemned, & start shouting down those who park on pavements & block access routes, those who treat us as if we were a particularly unintelligent toddler, or those who make us invisible. They need to start with the man in the mirror (sorry, couldn’t resist).