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
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
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.
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.