The D Word

What’s a disability discussion without a ragey debate on language? “Disability” isn’t a perfect word. Yes, we know it focuses on inability and not ability. But that’s kind of the point. Ableism is the belief that ability is good and inability is bad. We’re trying to move beyond that. We’re trying to create a world in which everyone can have equitable opportunities, no matter their level of disability or inability.

Sometimes a disabled person’s body or mind just can’t do the thing. Can’t walk. Can’t hear. Can’t focus. We’re not going to sugarcoat it (sugarcoating = avoiding). What we are going to do is say that rather than pitying or ignoring or stigmatizing the person, we should build a society in which they can participate at the same level anyone else can, whether that be getting a job or hanging out with their peeps.

Nationally and internationally, "disability" (not "ability") is the language of the laws that recognize us. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

In a way, avoiding the word “disabled” or “disability” is the most insidious form of ableism, because it further ignores and invalidates our reality. We don’t want talking about disability to be even harder than it already is. That’s why we have to #SayTheDWord (or #SayTheWord).

Many of us are now capitalizing Disabled and Disability when we refer to the culture, not just the condition (see Disability Truth #3). The Deaf community has done this for a long time.

What to use:
  • Disabled people
  • People with disabilities
  • The disability community, or the Disability community
  • The disabled community, or the Disabled community
What not to use:
  • Special needs. Implies that our rights are different from other people's rights, when really we all share human rights.
  • Differently abled. Different from what? Automatically makes us the "other", the outsider.
  • Ability instead of disability. Sugarcoating = avoiding.
  • Accessibility instead of disability. Accessibility is an excellent practice, but it is not a replacement for describing the Disability community.
  • Handicapped. Associated with begging (cap in hand).
  • Handicapable. Sugarcoating = avoiding.

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