Forging New Meanings of the Word: Disability

Throughout history, there have been a lot of misconceptions and negative connotations associated with the word disability. To the point where many outside the disability community, have tried to help those within the disability community and began to say things like “there is no Dis in our abilities,” as a way to show people that just because some may have a physical or mental impairment, doesn’t mean they can’t accomplish the same things as someone without them. Some of those people are very driven in life because of those impairments and it is the catalyst that propels them forward in life. They may have to work twice as hard as their -abled counterparts but it’s worth it for the reward in the end. The proof shows that they are just as capable of doing things. The problem with this, in my opinion, is that it’s not the word that is the issue but the negativity of other people and their perception of the word that changes how that word is interpreted by others. Words are just words that are given their meaning by people and we can change that meaning and how they are perceived. We can also allow people to use whatever words they want to define themselves. It seems only right if they are comfortable with the meaning and connotation of the word. 

As a person with a disability, who is only recently disabled within the last few years and has not had to live with a disability all my life, disability doesn’t have the same connotation to me. It means I have limitations, and it means I can’t do the same things I used to, but it doesn’t define me and it certainly doesn’t limit me even though it may limit what I can physically. It doesn’t limit me mentally; it doesn’t limit my imagination and sometimes I can even find ways around the physical limitations to do what I what to do. It just means thinking out of the box which goes to that creativity, which I have a lot of. Now, I understand that some people who live with a disability all their life view it differently. The very nature of the word itself DIS-able has this negative connotation attached to it whereby you are making this insinuation that you can’t do something because you have this flaw. It’s ridiculous. You may not be able to do one thing, but you may be very capable of doing other things. 

Some people don’t like using the word disabled and that’s ok, but others are perfectly comfortable with it. Some people prefer cripple, others don’t. Some people prefer different words to identify themselves and that is okay too. It shouldn’t be up to anyone else to say how we should identify ourselves, or worse, tell us what is right or wrong about how we identify ourselves. This is such a personal decision. Not even under the guise of trying to make things better or more inclusive for the disability community because that is unfair and not we asked for. Words become negative when they are used in negative ways. I don’t believe that words are inherently bad. I think if people in the disability community are okay with words like disable and cripple, then they should be allowed to use them. This belongs to them. 

I believe people in the -able community should be sensitive and respectful of how those in the disabled community want to be called. It doesn’t take that long to ask someone how they identify or what they prefer to be called. Respectfully, I think, because they are the ones with the disability. They are the ones who have been navigating this in their life for however long and if anyone gets to dictate how that makes them feel, it should be them. I know at the beginning I was very much against being called disabled and forget about crippled. That might as well be a curse word. I’m still not okay with that one, but disabled doesn’t mean the same 

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