[Image shows three spoons laying on a laptop keyboard with an overlapping clipart of torn notebook paper with a red paper clip. On the paper reads in black text: “Disabled” Isn’t a Bad Word. Below it is the symbol of a stick man in a wheelchair in red. And at the bottom of the banner is the URL for Thee Crohnie Grace Blog]
“You’re not disabled. You’re just differently abled.” Says the perfectly healthy person to the disabled person.
There are a million and one identifiers that people can use, and it’s all their own choice. What is not okay, is trying to tell someone else how they should identify. And you can say all you want that you shouldn’t label people, or poke fun at “a generation all about labels”, but the fact of the matter is, we as humans, have a need to label everything.
A prime example of why labeling is actually important is taxonomy, which is the scientific process of classifying organisms. The famous system of: Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species. We group things by their similarities, because it is just a matter of fact that not all animals, and not all people are the same. And that is okay.
Some of these labels include both ascribed roles and achieved roles (roles that are assigned at birth and roles that you gain as you grow up). Disability could fall under either seeing as many are born with disabilities and many gain them as they grow up. It is something that makes us different, but it not inherently a bad thing to be disabled.
When someone identifies as “disabled” it is often met with a lot of “No, you’re not disabled, you are just differently abled. You can do anything anyone else can do. You’re not disabled.” They say it as if being disabled is a bad thing. And as I discussed in the last post, it is not good or bad it just is.
The go to term in my book is disabled. Of course if someone tells me they identify as something else, I will make sure to remember that and use that. Just as I would with a person’s pronouns.
The list of things you should avoid differ from person to person but a good list summary would be not to refer to people as:
- Differently abled
- Wheelchair bound/Confined to a wheelchair (it is a negative way to say “Wheelchair user”)
- Physically/Mentally Challenged
- Cripple (exception being those with physical disabilities who are reclaiming the slur.)
- Retarded (Also a slur)
- Special Needs (They’re not special needs, they’re basic human needs)
These terms have a history of negativity with them, of course some people do not mind, but I would not use them as go to terms before asking. And if you’re unsure what to call your friend or someone, just ask them. I find that most situations can be resolved by just asking. If you don’t know what I refer to myself as, just ask, it may change depending on the day. From disabled, to cripple, to spoonie, all of these are terms people use. The important thing is to remember which terms are okay to call others and yourself.
Obviously some of the slurs you cannot use because they may not be yours to reclaim. I will cover the cripple and cripple punk discussion another day since it is a intricate subculture. But all of the others are up in the air. I once asked a group of people how they identified themselves when asked and there’s a ton of different responses to it.
From “broken”, “crazy”, “chronically bad-ass”, “neuro-atypical”, “neurodivergent”, “disabled”, “gimp/cripple”, etc. There is so many identifiers used and it’s all up to each person. Again, what is not okay is telling someone how they should identify. And it’s not okay to use terms that aren’t for you.
Disability isn’t a bad word. It just has a negative connotation due to society seeing disabilities as tragic or sad, something that make people less than whole. But disabled people everywhere are making a difference in how we are being seen by others now, there is a movement (including the Cripple Punk movement and the Spoonie movement) that is slowly changing that and perhaps one day it will be worldly accepted to say: “I am disabled, and that’s okay.” Without someone insinuating that it is a bad thing.
[Image shows boots laying askew on a hardwood floor in black and white, a cane is propped against one of the boots and is in color. Metallic purple and pink floral print on the cane. In the upper right hand corner is a purple photography logo of a camera with text that wraps around it and says “Grace Shockey Photography”]