“Differently Abled”?

One of the bloggers I follow, Sherina at sherinaspeaks, recently wrote this post in which she mentions the terminology we use to describe people who can’t hear, see, or do other things that most humans can do.

She states that:

“[she] strives to say ‘differently abled’ instead of disabled. No one is lacking in ability – they just have a different ability.”

Here’s why I disagree.

Someone who can’t hear is absolutely lacking in ability.  For whatever reason, their body lacks the ability to transform sound waves into meaningful ideas.

Someone with cerebral palsy absolutely lacks some ability of movement.  For some, this lack of ability may be more severe than others, but there is no question that people with cerebral palsy cannot move the way that the majority of humans can move.

That’s why I think that the word “disability” is a fine word to use.  It’s a descriptor of human bodily capacity.

Using the phrase “differently abled,” in my opinion, brings even more attention to the fact that the person being described can’t do something that most humans can. As my friend who writes at Rants You Didn’t Ask For eloquently noted upon reading the draft of this post:

to claim they aren’t disabled also puts a stigma of shame on their disability, which is the opposite of what [Sherina is] trying to do by changing the word. (emphasis added)

Maybe more so, this implies a fear of acknowledging that disease and other bad things exist; that the world, however unfortunately, is a place full of pain and suffering. Disabilities suck, and that should be acknowledged as well as the fact that people with disabilities are awesome people.

What I believe Sherina was trying to say is that we need to quit getting hung up on what humans can and can’t do with their bodies.

People who can’t see, or hear, or move like most people aren’t lesser people because of that.  We as a human society should absolutely emphasize this and try to live our lives in such a way that allows everyone, no matter their ability, to participate in society without discrimination.  This could mean employers buying bigger desks for employees with wheelchairs, or a student learning sign language to be able to include a deaf classmate in conversation.

But ultimately, for human beings as a whole, these bodily abilities are not the abilities that matter most.  Whether or not a person can see doesn’t have an effect on their ideas and opinions — the things that really make people people.  This is the whole idea, I think, behind Sherina’s post: that rather than focusing on what people are and are not able to do, we need to strive to see people as people, period.

Everyone is different, and there is no “normal” ability. There’s just your ability, and that’s the only one that should matter.  -Sherina


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