Disabled and Empowered: No, “Disability” is Not A Bad Word



Last week, I stumbled upon an article titled Viewpoint: Is it time to stop using the word “disability”? In the article, the author discusses whether or not it is time to do away with the word “disabled”. She explains that words evolve with the times; for example, as a society, we no longer use the word handicapped.

“Recently there has been a shift towards person-first language and now “people with disabilities” are often more popular in general usage over its predecessor “disabled people”. I have noticed too that people in the disability community sometimes like to emphasize the “ability” part of the word with hyphens or capital letters: dis-ability or disAbility.” (Atkinson, 2015https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-ouch-34385738

After I read the article, I had to wonder, is she right? Or, is it a matter of an individual’s preference? I found myself agreeing with her on one point in particular: the most respectful language is a person first. Meaning, a person/individual with a disability, rather than a disabled person. As an adult, I have found myself having to explain to another that while my disability is a part of my identity, it is not the sole factor. 

That being said, my personal opinion is that the word “Disabled” is not a bad word. If someone is trying to use that as a way to describe me, it would not be offensive to me, so long as they use person-first language. I have spent many years rebelling against words such as handicapped or disabled. It wasn’t until I was ready to accept my conditions that I welcomed language that embraced them! In fact, I found that in my willingness, even need, to be comfortable embracing my disability that I also gained an identity.

During the years where I rebelled against the reality of my conditions, I struggled most with my identity. I did not want to be a teenager with a physical disability. I wanted to be “normal”. I lacked the maturity and hindsight to understand that normal was a relative term. What is more, in the long run, I was only harming myself. The reality is, I exist alongside the able-bodied community, but I was never, nor will I ever, be a part of them. In my experience, neglecting to accept my conditions, I was downplaying the reality of them and the subsequent struggles, which just put me in positions that hurt me, both physically and emotionally.

I remember clearly an incident in P.E. class with a substitute teacher. This individual had no knowledge of me, so when they asked: “What is wrong with you?” (That phrase is offensive! For a more detailed explanation of why, see this post.) http://iammorethanadisability.com/the-power-of-words-yes-how-you-speak-about-my-conditions-matters/ I simply replied with “Oh, nothing. I twisted my ankle”. As a result of my extreme manipulation of the truth, the teacher expected me to be able to complete exercises that were completely unrealistic for me, and truthfully, painful.

I now realize that I am comfortable with the word “Disabled” because I am proud of it! I am proud to be a part of a community that is strong, diverse, adaptive, and welcoming! I take comfort in knowing that when I’m out in public, and I come across an individual with a disability, it’s like having an instant family member. I find strength in knowing that while I have struggled (as does everyone else) I am not broken or need to be fixed. Lastly, I am grateful, so very grateful.

Most of the most positive and monumental moments of my life were created BECAUSE of my challenges. I trained for the Paralympics! I have competed in several countries, and represented my home country! I recognized a need, and subsequent void, which inspired me to create this very blog! I have grown into an empowered woman who found her voice because I knew what it was like to have others believe that I had nothing important to say. Everything that I have created in life, been blessed with, and had the courage to go after was either a direct or indirect consequence of my Disability. For that reason, I feel pride when I hear others use the “D” word in reference to me, and if you are reading this as another person with a disability, you should be proud, too!