News, Views, and Information about Disability

Disability News, Views, Information, and Literature

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Languaging Disability: Where do "Ability" and "Dis/Ability" Fit In?

What word do you use for people who either have or don't have a disability, such as for an antidiscrimination policy? Do you say, "We welcome everyone, regardless of  age, race, religion, sexual orientation, class, gender, or ability?" Or do you say "dis/ability"?

In a new essay at Ability Maine, Sharon Wachsler argues against the use of "ability" to mean "disability" and offers two alternatives that she believes are more accurate, honest, and respectful.
Why is using "ability" this way problematic? The first reason is that it's inaccurate and misleading because whether or not one is disabled doesn't actually have much to do with one's abilities. I know that the letters "a-b-i-l-i-t-y" are contained in the word "disability," but the etymology of the word and its meaning as a social construct are not the same thing.
Read Languaging Disability by clicking here. (Have comments on the article? Agree? Disagree? Other ideas? Come back here to our blog and speak your mind!) 


  1. i like to say TAB because mental and cognitive disabilities are physiological. My PTSD is wired in my brain,a body part for example. And everyone has been/will be temporarily disabled, with the flu,a broken arm, or depression at some point in their lives. Very few are lucky enough to ever experience NO physical issues that limit their ability to function. For myself I use crip as I have cerebral palsy which was invisible as I was younger but now is noticeable. I like the radicalness of it, like the word queer. ACT-UP used these tactics to take back their power and to shock people out of conventional stereotypes. However I like saying "people living with MCS" now the way we say "people living with AIDS." I was misdiagnosed a long time ago as "bipolar" and I would say "I have a diagnosis of bipolar" since the term had no meaning. Someone else I met says "I am affected by bipolar symptoms."

    I like all the diversity we have now in choosing OUR own names. When dealing with activists who are educated I ask they say differently abled. I may not be able to do some things they can do but can they read Tarot, draw portraits, write grant proposals, and find safe non-mordant needing dyes safe for MCS in their yard? I can do a lot they cannot and I want that seen. With social services I stress disabled to get them to accommodate me with the ADA. I hate being seen as a label though of "disabled" as I feel like it says "useless" "more work" "God, what does this person want now?" (I was in social work on the other side of the desk once!)

    I found something from a UK group circa 1974 that stated "we have impairments; society disables us." I agree. Some of my abilities are impaired, others are heightened (I have a 156 IQ). Both have disabled me in this society. Having been feral and a homeless street kid whose parents abandoned her gave me some strengths and some weaknesses. I am disabled by the lack of kindness and sensitivity and INCLUSIVITY of "community" events. I am disabled by the community's anger at having to think about "special needs," when they have the special needs to wear toxic poisons. My needs are basic - clean air and food and water. No stairs. A comfy chair.

    Sometimes I feel lopsided with some extremely high level skills and some extremely low level skills. I am elevated/needs ignored or degraded/forced to beg. Having my sense of identity is hard. I had so many misdiagnoses, like so many with MCS or a brain disorder due to the ambiguity. I was treated differently by every doctor depending on the code. If they never saw me and read I had cerebral palsy I was talked down to, if they read bipolar they just said "don't kill yourself and take these pills that make you sick", if they read PTSD they assume I was in the war, if they read vasomotor rhinusitis, they say minor allergies, if they read dyspraxia they say "what is that?" if they read ADHD they expect me to be spacey when I have hyperfocus, if they read fibromyalgia, they say exercise and no pain meds, if they read CO poisoning syndrome they don't have any idea what to expect.

    Finally I learned the codes are just for billing insurance, they didn't MEAN anything. I don't have anything you can test for and nothing I have really is understood by science aside from CP. They change all the time! It's not who I am.

    I expect to have the same accessibility to everything in life as anyone else. I accommodate all the semi-functioning drunk, unstable, in denial people pretending I am the one with the problem. I have a lot of amazing skills since I got MCS, I could be hired as a petrochemical sensing human! I have been tested and know how great I am, how strong and courageous and compassionate.

    My current fave is "uppity crippled lady." LOL!

  2. Heather,

    Thank you very much for your thoughtful comment. I, too, refer to myself as an uppity crip at times!



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