They call me disabled

I object to being called a ‘disabled’ person, or even an impaired one.

Admittedly, the social model of disability marks a distinct improvement on the whole debate. The social model maintains that we are not disabled, it is the system that is disabled in that it fails to accommodate us. Yet, the social model still preserves the concept of disability and some of its terminology, which then allows others who have no interest in the niceties of theory to keep using these terms of reference for their own ends.

After years of optimism, the words and theories still delineate classes of person who fall outside some categories and into others. Being classified, even in passing as ‘disabled’ or ‘impaired’ gives the impression, intentional or not, that people with disabilities are a race apart.

The truth is far more subtle. We are all disabled, in which case, why make any distinction? It is no badge of honour to me that I have been defined in so many aspects by what I cannot do. Political and social adherence to impossibility is frustrating; emotional entrapment by a peculiarised self-image is a recipe for life-long depression and self-hatred.

Each of us, whatever we are capable of, is entitled to define ourselves as we see fit. For the rest, we are what we do. Beyond that lies a sea of irrelevance.

It was my father who first made clear to me, how insidious are casual references to prejudice. “Why do we refer to them as ‘black youths, Fran? In the news reports, we never say, ‘White youths….’” That was in the seventies. How much have things changed?

I grow a conviction that many aspects of identity – generational difference, gender, size, ethnicity – are ascribed by others, and used continually, to make themselves feel comfortable.

Everyone, no matter who they are, deserves to be treated with respect, and to have offered to them the individual consideration that allows them to live a full life. Why then, would I choose to define myself as ‘disabled and proud’? How can I ‘self-identify’ as disabled? I do not, nor ever have, believed myself to be ‘disabled’, but to have been given those characteristics and abilities that will inform my journey in this life, and help me to learn the soul lessons that I came here to learn.


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