Sticks and Stones –The Emotional Baggage Associated with Disability Terminology
It’s no secret that people often become nervous when using words that reference disability, and I get that. They don’t want to upset us, or make us feel in any way diminished by the term they use. And I get that too. In fact, I’m not even sure I know what term I should use to describe my own lack of sight.
I don’t really like the word disability because I don’t consider myself unable or incapable. I’m also not wild about the term visually impaired since I really don’t think I’m broken or damaged. Nor does the term differently abled resonate with me – I promise you my abilities are no different from yours; it’s only my methods that differ.
I guess it’s not the actual terminology that I struggle with. It’s the implications that each term carries. And when it comes right down to it, I have the choice of whether or not to take on the emotional implications of the terms
And neither do you.
“What?” I hear you ask, “What on earth do you mean by that?”
Well, you’d be amazed how often I’ll be talking to someone who gets completely tongue-tied when they need to refer to my blindness. They stammer, turn almost audibly red, and then mutter the dreaded “b”, “v” or “d” word as if it’s something heinous.
it doesn’t really matter to me what words you use – I don’t have to take on any of the emotional baggage that most of the terms carry. For me blindness is a reality, not a problem and, while I may be labelled disabled, it certainly doesn’t mean I’m in any way disempowered.
So use whatever term you’re most comfortable with… just don’t mumble it as if it’s something unmentionable.
PS: I feel I ought to warn you that not all visually impaired people share my view and have strong preferences of the terms you use – as a piece of advice I’d suggest you ask them what works for them!