I like to think that the big reason why so many people say rude things about disability and disabled people is that they just don’t know much about it. In that vein, today I want to talk about what abled people (aka not disabled) should know about disability.
What’s the Deal with Disability?
What does it mean to be disabled? Stanford University defines disability as “a health condition or physical impairment that prevents an individual from taking full advantage of life’s opportunities such as education, vocation, recreation, and activities of daily living” (x). As you can tell, this is a really broad term that covers a variety of conditions. It includes people with physical or mental health issues such as: problems seeing, both those who are completely blind and those with partial blindness; those with difficulty hearing; those with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia; those with depression or anxiety to the extent that it interferes with daily life; and more (x). According to the World Health Organization, disability has 3 elements: impairments in a person’s body structure, function, or mental functioning; activity limitation, like trouble seeing, hearing, walking, or problem solving; and participation restrictions in normal daily activities (x).
How many people are disabled? Nearly 1 in 5 Americans are disabled (x), and 1 in 10 Americans are severely disabled (x). In fact, 1 in 4 of today’s 20 year-olds will become disabled before they retire (x). Many people assume that most disabilities are from accidents, but most are actually from illnesses (x).
How many people use assistive devices? The official statistic is 96% of people with a disability have an invisible one (x). 6.8 million Americans use a mobility device, which is 11.99% of disabled Americans (x). I offer these two statistics because I know people who technically have an invisible disability (arthritis), but they use a scooter.Disability facts that you need to know. Click To Tweet
What You, an Abled Person, Should Especially Be Aware Of
Someone doesn’t have to “look” disabled to be disabled – Hopefully, you figured this out from that assistive device statistic. If your idea of “disabled” is someone in a wheelchair, you have a very narrow view of disability.
Ableism is a huge problem – (Ableist language to come FYI.) Ableism, or the discrimination of disabled people, is unfortunately imbedded in most of our society. Our comments about someone being dumb, stupid, crazy, an idiot, a moron, etc. are all ableist comments. These comments are thrown around like nothing, but they’re based in the fact that people who have a low IQ or who have a mental illness are lesser than the rest of people. I’ve written a lot about ableism, so I’ll leave these pieces here for you to read instead of repeating myself: Everyday Ableism, Examples of Ableist Language in Everyday Life, and On Inspiration Porn.
(Ableist language over.)
The government is trying to roll back our rights – HR 620 was recently introduced to the US House of Representatives, which would reduce the value of the American’s with Disabilities Act. The ADA is responsible for making it the law that businesses need to be accessible. By reducing that, the government is saying, “We don’t care about disabled people.” And of course we can’t forget all of the attempts to repeal the ACA. Is the ACA perfect? No. But it makes it illegal for insurance companies to deny us coverage if we have a pre-existing condition, among other things.
Preference of disabled vs. person with disabilities depends on the person – I prefer to be called disabled. It saves time and it doesn’t make a difference to me. But there are a lot of people who prefer the person-first language of “person with disabilities.” Basically, if a disabled person corrects you on how you refer to them, go with what they prefer. That might be different from what another disabled person prefers; go with what that person prefers.
Disabled is not a dirty word – Disabled is an adjective. It describes one aspect of what my life is like. It isn’t a terrible to thing to be disabled. Would I love to not be in pain all of the time? Absolutely. But if for some reason all of my pain went away but I was still for some reason disabled, the world would not end. Every now and then someone will say, “Don’t call yourself disabled!” But I am disabled. If you have a problem with that, you have some issues of your own.
Wheelchairs are freeing – By the way, wheelchairs are often freeing. They are a way of being out in the world and doing things instead of being confined to our houses. I wouldn’t have been able to go to Washington, D.C., for the Advocacy Summit the last three years if it wasn’t for the scooter I rented. Don’t assume that using a wheelchair is a bad thing.
If you are an abled person and have a question, feel free to comment below with it and I will do my best to answer you. If you’re a disabled person and have something you want to add, comment with it!
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