The D word

The D word
This is "disabled." "Promotes deterioration." (1947). National Mental Health Foundation. Retrieved from the Disability History Museum.

No, I’m not talking about swearwords like damnation, darn, damn, douche, d-bag, dickhead (whee, that was fun!). I’m talking about “disabled.”

We’re in the 21st century. I kind of expect people to already know that “disabled” is not a good way to identify people. So, it really throws me for a loop when people talk about “the disabled” instead of “people with disabilities.” There is a difference between the two.


Disabled is the whole identity.

People with disabilities is where people are people who just happen to have disabilities.

When you talk about “reaching out to the disabled” or “disabled men and women,” you are identifying them primarily by their disabilities, which then overshadow their hopes, dreams, and personalities. It colors your view of them.

It reminds me of when I was in middle school, in homeschool girls gym class. We were playing basketball, and this girl and I clonked heads. It hurt, and I was dazed. It took a couple of seconds to regain myself, and then I kept playing. The other girl looked at me as if I might fall apart, and ran away, crying. I later asked my mom if she was okay–I felt bad that she got hurt so much that she actually cried. My mom explained to me that her family taught their kids that I was fragile. Special. Just because I had hearing aids. I was confused. Couldn’t they see that I was just another homeschool kid? Just because I can’t hear so well didn’t mean that I needed to be treated as if I was a doll made out of bone china.

Instead, they saw me only through the lens of disabled. And a rather blurry lens at that.

This is a person with disabilities. "Roosevelt takes oath of office." (1933). The Polio Chronicle. Retrieved from the Disability History Museum

This is a person with disabilities.
“Roosevelt takes oath of office.” (1933). The Polio Chronicle. Retrieved from the Disability History Museum

On the flip side, I’ve had some fantastic bosses who treated me like any other employee–and recognized that I was first and foremost, a person, then as an employee who can accomplish anything within my rank. Accommodations for my hearing loss was only a tertiary factor that we tackled once I was hired, and it did not affect how they treated me. Sure, I may sometimes have to refer a hard-to-understand person on the phone over to them, or I may not hear the doorbell when it is noisy, but that did not define their understanding of me. They knew I liked helping people. They knew I was a history student and a future librarian. They gave me opportunities to branch out and grow. There was no disabled lens that they were looking through.

They knew I am a person with disabilities.


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