I’m Not ‘Differently Abled.’ I’m Disabled.

‘Disabled’ isn’t a bad word — don’t be afraid to use it

Photo: anjan58/Flickr

You don’t have to take part in the elaborate, unsettling song and dance of denying a person’s disability or hiding it behind a euphemism.

When a person uses phrases like “special,” “handi-capable,” and “differently abled,” it tells me they have a lot to learn about how disabled people function in society. These are people who tend to believe comforting platitudes like “the only disability is a bad attitude,” and tend to find it “inspiring” when they see a video of a person with Down Syndrome going to prom. In real life, these same folks are usually squeamish about acknowledging that someone around them has a disability.

Disabilities present real barriers

Using the phrase “differently abled” is a bit like dismissing biphobia by saying “well, everybody’s a little bit bisexual.” The phrase implies that since everyone is a little bit different, ability-wise, “disabled” isn’t really a meaningful category that sets people apart.

Society dis-ables us

A disability is much more than a set of clear-cut physical or mental symptoms. Often, society excludes and ignores disabled people in a way that actively robs us of agency and ability. It’s not just our conditions that disable us. We are also “dis-abled” by a society that is unaccommodating or outright hostile.

There’s no reason to tiptoe around the reality of someone being disabled unless you consider those things to be shameful.

This, by the way, is also why most disability activists reject person-first language. Calling me a “person with Autism” may sound more gentle to an abled-person’s ears than simply calling me Autistic, but the fact is that Autism is an innate, embedded part of who I am. I am not a “person with Autism,” I am Autistic. Autism is not a tacked-on attribute, or a curse. It’s a part of me just like my nonbinary-ness, my whiteness, or any other meaningful trait.

Disability doesn’t impact a person’s worth

If you are uncomfortable acknowledging that someone is blind, Deaf, paralyzed, Autistic, or has Down Syndrome, it’s probably because you think disability makes a person less worthy. There’s no reason to tiptoe around the reality of someone being disabled unless you consider those things to be shameful.

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