Disability Chat: Inclusive Language, Words vs. Actions, & Awareness

Hi, friends. I’ve started a series about the different aspects of my disability that I grapple with (My Disability Experience), but now I’m starting a series about social perceptions and other issues on disability. These posts may be controversial sometimes, especially ones that rebut certain attitudes of my disabled peers. I hope you’ll appreciate my down-to-earth perspective on things.

The Various Names for Disability

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I noticed a social media post recently that harped on how harmful the term “handicapped” is when discussing accommodations and how we should replace it with the term “accessible.” The line of logic was that “accessible” has a different connotation from “handicapped.” Making a place “accessible” means enabling everyone to participate, while providing “handicapped” accommodations implies catering to a specific group who can’t do what everyone else can.

I understand the point–in a word, inclusiveness–but it strikes me as semantic. As an expert in English, I appreciate the effect of word choice; after all, the entire study of rhetoric is semantic, yet rhetoric affects everything from which cereal we buy to which president we elect. Even so, word choice isn’t the battle I’d spend time fighting in this context.

Some take it further and prefer the phrase “differently-abled” to disabled or handicapped. “Disabled” implies a lack in abilities, and “handicapped” implies a disadvantage, but “differently-abled” does not connote any lacking or deficit.

I’m fine with describing myself as disabled or handicapped because the fact of the matter is that I do lack some abilities that a healthy human should have. I am at a disadvantage in life; I am handicapped. I wouldn’t describe myself as differently-abled because I don’t possess abilities that a healthy human doesn’t have; I can’t fly or walk through walls.

I’m not totally obtuse. I know why people use the term “differently-abled;” it’s an attempt at empowerment. I can appreciate that because I’ve seen firsthand that pity–particularly self-pity–can completely destroy a disabled person’s motivation and joy. To be honest, though, I don’t know that a vocabulary shift on the personal or even societal level will be enough to address that.

What Really Matters–Actions

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You know what affects me far more than words? Actions. Like when people park in the last handicapped spot because “they’ll only be a minute,” so I’m circling the lot in frustrated desperation, looking for a spot with room to get out my wheelchair… when people go in the only handicapped stall and browse their phone for ten minutes, so a line for the regular stalls forms beside me with women filing in and out of the bathroom as I still wait… when someone parks so far in the loading zone that I can’t access the ramp to the sidewalk, so I’ll probably have to flag down a stranger for help or roll a good distance to find another sidewalk ramp…

I get frustrated, but I have to remind myself that the problem isn’t necessarily that people are heartless towards the disabled. The real problem is visibility. The people in the above scenarios aren’t thinking “screw Lily and the wheelchair she rode in on;” they don’t think about handicapped people, period. My existence is not on their radar.

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Cuttin’ a rug…yes, wheelchair users can do that!

I think the #1 solution for helping disabled people AND addressing both societal pity and self-pity is awareness. Disabled people like myself and allies like my readers need to spread the word. Disabled people are here, and we can and do lead fulfilling, successful lives! We do, however, need some accommodations!

There is more room to explore, but I’ll go ahead and wrap it up. Looking forward to writing more of these posts.

Call me handicapped, disabled, differently-abled, whatever…just know that I exist!

Thanks for reading! Has this post increased your awareness of handicapped needs and struggles? Let me know in the comments.

Also, can some photographer out there start specializing in disability, please?! There’s a stunning lack of results for tags like “handicapped,” “disabled,” “wheelchair,” etc…at least on Pixabay and Unsplash.

31 comments

  1. I love where your head is at on this. It’s not really that different a discussion from those in the trans community, though from a different target perspective. It really does come down to awareness, understanding, and the opportunity to equalize the playing field. Excellent post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Right there with you, babe! But you use a much nicer approach, while MAMA BEAR here wants to roar and call folks out ! I still say that YOU will change the way the world views ( and accommodates) those with mobility issues. Just keep doing what you do, for you are making a difference. By posting your story, by shopping, going out to eat, preaching, dancing, living and enjoying life, you are raising awareness. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lily, I grew up in a totally different ear whereas we were NOT to focus on handicapped, etc. and were to focus on the PERSON. Hell, we are ALL handicapped in something in one way or another. Too, with your charm, beauty and smarts, if you are handicapped, then I am a Monkey’s Uncle. No, I am not kin to any monkey in any extreme. Keep it up Miss Sunshine. We all think you are GREAT. That is Tony the Tiger Style.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, love the Tony the Tiger reference and the Monkey’s Uncle comment…lol! You are right that we are all “handicapped” in some way because we all have crosses to bear. I appreciate your support now and always, Tom.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hooray! some common sense from someone to whom it matters. I understand the need to avoid demeaning nomenclature, but the sad effect of much of this semantic tinkering by do-gooders is a chorus of tutting and ‘here they go again’ from the general public.
    The other sad thing is that, were you to present your down-to-earth views to the media, they would rather report the rants of an offended semanticist.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Great job Lily. I love the nickname from T.F.Thompson, Miss Sunshine! LOved your post as well. Roy has a Handicap Platcard and I have had folks tell me I should use it. Well I don’t think so. It is for him and I know there are folks out there such as yourself that need those spots much more than I do. I CAN walk to the door, I may have aches and pains buit I can walk and there is nothing wrong with my breathing either. I appauld you and the insight you give people with your Post..Keep up the GOOd work, one day, it will hopefully, make a difference. Cheers to you Miss Sunshine!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Deborah! I also applaud you for thinking of others when it comes to Roy’s handicapped placard and not just yourself! We can change the world a little at a time by creating a ripple effect of kindness and consideration.

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  6. You basically said what I would, and it’s that intention matters. Kind of like if someone makes a joke, and it hurts, we can ask ourselves whether or not they knew we would be offended. Sometimes it’s easy to see that there was malice, or no malice, while other times, it’s ambiguous. You sound like you have a healthy self awareness which is what helps each of us deal with the hurts and frictions of life.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. A good post to keep us mindful of others. In truth we all are handicapped in one way or the other. Some handicaps are just more visible. That’s why we need a Savior who makes us whole no matter the handicap.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Very enlightening. Admittedly, I do use the handicap stall in the restrooms. Only when I’m with the little ones though. The stall is bigger so I can make sure the girls don’t wander off on their own… I get it though. And posts like this will make people more aware. Insightful as always, Lily ❤

    Like

  9. You have captured what I refer to as “the world of the outliers” in a way that describes it and helps the rest of the wrold understand. Have you checked out “The Mighty” – there’s a market for your stories – except they’ve rejected me three times! Maybe because I am writing about my child, not myself?

    Like

  10. Yesterday, I just learned about why people should not park in the sections with the blue. I am so glad you are raising awareness. People need better understanding. I love everything you said 🙂 I’m going to share this on the community headlines.

    Like

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