Why the Word Disability Doesn’t Scare Me
Written by Kathleen Downes
The word disability doesn’t scare me. It does not mean that I am unable to do anything. It means that I am living another shade of the human experience. It means that my body is asymmetrical, discombobulated even, but certainly no less worthy. It has the peculiar, captivating essence of an abstract work of art. A disability means that society is not always sure how to accommodate me, how to make a place for me in time and space. A disability is the opportunity to talk about these things, to realize how much better the world would be if we expanded our ideas.
It does mean that I am unable to do some things, like walk by myself or climb a staircase, or tie my shoelaces. I can’t do these things, and that is a fact. It is okay to accept this truth, because every person has something that he or she cannot do. Acknowledging that I cannot do some things does not make me “less than” or “damaged” or “flawed”.
The big misconception is that that these words and “disability” are synonyms, when that simply is not the case. People reject the word “disability” and the word “disabled” because they have been trained to view them negatively. They have been trained to see these words as a statement of lesser value or lesser character. Words are what we allow them to become. In my world, the word disability means innovation, creativity, and acceptance. It means being all right with those who look or think or move differently. Words are what we allow them to become, and I have allowed this word to become a source of pride.
It is a marker of identity, just like the words “black”, “female”, or “gay”. It is part of me, and I am part of it. Viewed in a loving light, it is just another adjective.
I dream of the day when it will be treated as such, when rather than reject a word, society will reject a connotation. The word disability belongs to me. It belongs to my culture, my history, my path of life, because I have reclaimed it. It does not belong to fear, pity, and shame. No. It belongs to me. Positive connotation.
So, tell me I have a disability. Tell me I do. I dare you. When you say it, I will be proud. I hope that you will be too. And I hope that one day, not too long from now, people will wonder why they were so afraid of a word that can mean so many beautiful things.