According to medical professionals, casual observers, and every child who stares at my arms and hands in disbelief, I have a disability. My arms are short and under developed; I am missing fingers and have no thumbs, yet I do not feel like I am disabled. Not more than anyone else, at least.
So why am I considered to be disabled? My greatest limitation might be the difficulty in reaching things on the top shelf in the kitchen cabinets. I know plenty of other people who would need to borrow my stepladder to do the same thing, yet they’re not considered disabled. What gives?
I think the simplest answer is that we’re sloppy with nomenclature. That sloppiness isn’t anyone’s fault of course, and it’s not obviously done with any malice. But oftentimes people with a disability may not actually be disabled so calling them a disabled person is not accurate. It’s a basic descriptor to use, but in this world of political correctness, we sometimes get caught up the “proper” term to use even if it’s invalid. I am sure the fact that I look different could make people unsure of my actual abilities. But you know what? I am unsure of your abilities as well!
This topic reminds me of a guest post on Danielle’s blog written by my friend, Peter. “What do we call these people? I call them people.” Peter acknowledges the sass in that answer, but he made a very good point. We’re all just people so why are we falling over ourselves to apply labels and descriptors when it probably isn’t even necessary?
Almost everyone is disabled in some way. Whether it’s being unable to reach high shelves, typing slowly, not being able to see without corrective lenses, mobility issues, mental illness, or any number of other challenges we face. The thing is, I don’t feel disabled; I feel that I’m unique — as we all are, just some less visibly than others. If it’s more efficient to use my arms as a descriptor when trying to identify me then let’s do it! (Instead of describing the thin, 5’9″ guy with glasses, why not go right for the unique identifier and describe the dude with the different arms?) But be ready… if you describe me as “the disabled guy” then the people who know me won’t have any idea who you’re talking about!
What’s my point with this post? I honestly don’t know if I have a point with this one or just wanted to share some scattered thoughts on the subject. Maybe on a macro level, it’s just to get people (including myself) thinking more about labels. But not just for people with disabilities; let’s think about those labels we assign people in all aspects of our lives!
With this half-baked stream-of-consciousness post, I’d encourage others to add to the discussion in the comments section below!