Language & disability is a hard thing to navigate there’s no right thing to say, or right way to discuss it, that will make everyone happy.
I have varying points of view on the subject myself.
However, there’s one aspect disability language I do have a firm view on and I don’t see it changing anytime soon, if ever.
Disability is not a bad word.
Somehow it became a bad word, a word people avoid using whenever possible, even if it means coming up with terms like “special powers,” “differently abled,” or “physically challenged,” which for the record bother me far more than the word “disability” ever has and probably ever will.
One of the blessings of my degree program is the community that comes with it. We aren’t a bunch of people sitting behind computers interacting with each other, basically we are, but there’s a community aspect that I don’t think you get with other online degree programs.
One of my classmates in particular is involved in special needs ministry and had plans on discussing things for a while but never got around to it until I appointed myself the “good bye committee” since I totally sucked at being the “social director.” It just goes to show you should never appoint an introvert a “social director” without their OK.
We talked in the dark hallway, literally, for a while.
She wanted to know what was so bad about “special needs.” I pointed out that my needs were not any more special than most people’s. Also the feeling that I have that “special needs” has a shelf life and creates an awkward situation in terms of self-advocacy.
If you’re 3 and say you have “special needs” people will probably have a clue as to what you mean or they’ll at least be understanding on some level.
If you’re 33 and say you have “special needs” people will probably think something completely different, and along the lines of “diva,” “high maintenance,” and difficult to deal with.
She understood my point after that, but wasn’t ready to embrace the word “disability,” because it’s a bad word.
I pointed out that people, largely people without disabilities themselves, made it a bad word. It wouldn’t be a bad word if so many people didn’t insist on treating it as such, however it still states the truth regardless of personal feelings.
I read a tweet recently that puts things nicely:
— Lawrence Carter-Long (@LCarterLong) April 20, 2016
Not long after this conversation with my classmate I noted #SayTheWord on social media. While I can’t say I agree with everything that’s been attached to the hashtag (but can anyone say that about any hashtag?) I do think it’s about time we have the conversation.
— Rebecca Cokley (@RebeccaCokley) January 25, 2016