The meaning of disabled people


I contributed the following to a discussion on LinkedIn about the language we use. it struck me as one of the best things I’d ever said about language around disability so decided to reprint it here. The LinkedIn discussion had started from an exploration about the word handicapped which i was already discussing. Anyway, this was the last thing that i said;

The full moniker ‘Disabled People’ is seen by activists as a positive term. It stems from the theoretical position that Disabled People are those people who are discriminated against by society on the basis of their impairments. Disability is therefore not seen as an impairment but as an experience of discrimination that stems from barriers inherent within society.

There is also a suggestion that having an impairment becomes intrinsic to the life that you experience just as the colour of ones skin becomes intrinsic through experience of racism or gender becomes intrinsic through an experience of sexism. Therefore to survive negative experience of discrimination turns the words Disabled Person into a statement of pride. Pride and strength in difference. So we can see black and white, man and woman, disabled and non disabled. Rather than standing apart from society you are saying you want to be in society, and for society to accept, respect and adjust in recognition of our differences. Its gives pride and political strength. It unifies. It causes a call for action, a call for change.

This also suggests why we do not accept temporarily disabled people. Would a broken ankle provide long-term experience of discrimination or would it provide a useful insight into the experience that is likely to be forgotten when the ankle is fixed?

I was particularly pleased to associate language with social and political progression.

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