Accepting a disability can be hard for some disabled people and takes many people years before they reach the point where they accept the fact they are not getting better. Language is important because the way you speak to a disabled person can either help them learn to accept their disability or make them lose self-confidence and hate themselves. Every disabled person is unique and has different preferences in which they wish to identify themselves and there is no right or wrong way. There are many terms disabled people can use to identify themselves but I personally don’t like most of them because it’s either too negative or sounds stupid to me so I refuse to identify myself in that way. How you talk to a disabled person is important because it will either have a positive or negative effect on them. There are many terms that many disabled people may choose to you to identify themselves but I personally am negatively affected by them. In this post, I am going to talk about terms that people use often that negatively affect me.
Differently-abled–Many disabled people identify themselves as differently-abled and there is nothing wrong with using this term but it’s not one I choose to use. I personally think this term sounds stupid and the only people that I hear generally use it are people who are uncomfortable around disability or disabled people who have accepted their conditions. I had some acceptance issues back when I was going to school because I was not allowed to call myself disabled as it was considered negative so its imperative for me to call my disability for what it is. Identifying yourself as disabled is not negativity but it’s facts and it can be quite damaging to not let disabled people use the terms they want to use. I don’t use terms like differently-abled because I don’t feel like I need to use different terms to mask my disability. Whatever terms you choose to use that make you most comfortable does not change your diagnosis or who you are but just how you identify yourself so you can be more confident with your disability.
Special needs- The only people that I hear using the term special needs is schools and parents of disabled children but very rarely will you hear actual disabled people use this term because it’s not a term you should be using. Schools should stop using this term to identify disabled people and switch to saying disabled because it would have a more positive impact on the disabled community. I may struggle a lot more than most people but I have the same need and desires as abled people. When you use the term special needs you are separating my needs from everyone else’s like they are so different.
Crippled- Some disabled prefer to call themselves crippled but not all disabled people will and some people only find it appropriate if it’s coming from another disabled person who understands challenges to some extent. According to the Webster dictionary, the definition of crippled is someone who is disabled or partially disabled so your are not wrong. I don’t understand why disabled people are being defined as crippled because it sounds like we are incapable and just bad in general. Some people are negatively impacted by this term and it doesn’t matter what the dictionary says you should not call them that unless you know we are okay with it. When I think of the word cripped I don’t think of a disabled person and the first thing that comes to mind is an incapble fragile old woman. I may need help with more things than abled people but I wouldn’t consider myself as crippled.
Retarded- People often use the word retarded when they are mad at someone and want to insult them but this word should not even be in your vocabulary. Whenever you call someone retarded you basically are calling them dumb are directly attacking disabled people even if a disabled person is not part of the conversation and you didn’t mean it to be that way. This term is often used to make fun of disabled people and even if you are not saying this term directly to a disabled person it’s still insulting to our community. There is never an appropriate time to call someone retarded and I don’t care what your excuse is it’s not a good reason and there are always better words you can use.
Inspiring-Calling a disabled person inspiring may seem like a genuine comment but most of the time it’s not and abled people are just calling us inspiring because we are disabled. Abled people often think that disabled people need pity and are in desperate need of compliments so the first thing that usually comes to mind is that we are inspiring. Disabled people don’t even take this as a compliment anymore because it’s so overused and we hear it a million times a day. Imagine if disabled people went up to abled people and started calling them inspiring for showing up to work and doing their job. You would think we had complete lost it because you have to show up to work to get those bills paid. That is how disabled people feel when you call us inspiring for literally doing nothing and basically existing. There are tons of disabled people making a difference and I would put it in the category of inspiring but there are a lot of people who sit at home feeling sorry for themselves and are the complete opposite of that. A disability is not what makes someone inspiring but actions do because I wouldn’t consider someone who sits at home all day watching Netflix a role model!
Handicapped– The word handicapped has been around for centuries but was not used to identify disabled people until the late 1800s. It is a common word that many abled people use to indentify disabled people so you may be surprised that the word handicapped can be considered offensive for some disabled people because it implies inability and separation form society in general. It’s kind of like the word special where you basically are separating the disabled community from the rest of society. I have always used this term because I was raised by abled people who saw nothing wrong with this term but now that I think of it I may start using a less offensive terms like accessible to be more inclusive with the disabled community!
Wheelchair-bound- The word wheelchair-bound is used by abled people all the time to identify those in wheelchairs and you even hear it said by new reporters but even though it’s on tv that doesn’t make it correct. Some people may not mind referring to themselves as wheelchair-bound but it is the incorrect term and you should be identifying disabled people as wheelchair users not wheelchair-bound. Disabled people sometimes need to use a wheelchair but we are not bound to them and we are able to get out of them even if assistance is needed. When I think of the term wheelchair-bound the first thing that comes to mind is chains and not being to get out of something. Wheelchair use is such a negative term becuase it’s not something we are bound to but gives us freedome to do more things!
Some disabled people may not agree with this post and prefer to use terms like different abled to identify themselves and that is okay. There is no right or wrong way that you should identify as a disabled person you do what makes you feel most comfortable. These are just terms that I personally do not prefer but some disabled people may not mind it because we all think differently. Language is important for helping disabled people find confidence in their disability and finally accept that they are not getting better. You will either help them get to that point of acceptance or use the wrong language and hurt them. The language you use affects disabled people in more ways than you know so try and use appropriate terms that don’t irritate disabled people. Do any of these terms bother you and what terms do you prefer?
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A Chronic Voice (@AChVoice)
Excellent post Sarah. Finally a post that compiles it all and I can just refer people directly to! I agree with ‘differently-abled’ the most. So many of the terms abled people use try to sympathise with disabled people, without realising it’s kind of patronising.