Friday, May 31, 2013


Something tells me I am not the first person to be bothered by the “disability” label. I know it is useful in a variety of ways in terms of access and services, and that many do embrace it. Just – two quibbles:

First, as far as I can see, it is entirely too broad and general, encompassing people whose differences are so disparate as to be entirely unrelated. People with schizophrenia and people with paralysis. People with Down syndrome, people with Marfan syndrome and people with Asperger syndrome. Tourette’s and wounded vets. Environment. Fate. Genetics. Intellectual differences, emotional differences, physical differences…

Hmm. Sounds like…people.

Second, the term overlooks a crucial fact: that people with “disabilities” often have extraordinary abilities, some compensatory (the blind using other senses more effectively, for instance), some attendant to the “disability” (say, “savants” with autism or an olympic para athlete), some simply random or hereditary.

Again, what does this sound like? People?

So, while one could certainly say that a person with cerebral palsy is lacking a certain degree of mobility, one could also say that the person who yelled “Go back where you came from!” to my Chinese American friend and daughter when he almost mowed us down with his car was also lacking something most individuals might hope to share in a best case scenario.

Matter of fact, I can think of some fifth graders who are lacking a modicum of whatever car-slur dude was lacking.

Dear reader, you are probably tired of hearing this, but I do so wish the majority of people shared the exceptional openheartedness and kindness of my son, who happens to have autism. That they do not seems to me more of a “disability” than his.

I am not suggesting we throw out the useful aspects of disability as a category or identity.

Nevertheless, for general use, isn’t there something better?

After all, we are ALL “disabled” in the areas in which we struggle, and enabled both by the areas in which we flourish and by those aspects of our individual being that our cultural and social environments generally support. We all more or less successfully make all sorts of accommodations for differences and “special needs” (our own, and those of others). We blunder through all sorts of ill-fitting situations. We celebrate, ignore and denigrate myriad manifestations of the unique in equal measure.

The term “differently-abled” is so, so ungainly. Diffabled for short? A quick google search reveals I am by no means the first to think of this term, but it is one that bears disseminating.

It’s a great label – for everyone.

Full Spectrum Mama

1 comment:

  1. I was wondering if you ever considered changing the page layout
    of your site? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.
    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so
    people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or 2
    pictures. Maybe you could space it out better?


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