“The BeZine” February Blog Series on Illness and Disability begins today; Why “Disabled” not “Differently Abled”
“My disability exists not because I use a wheelchair, but because the broader environment isn’t accessible.” Stella Young, was an Australian comedian, journalist and disability rights activist. She was born with osteogenesis imperfecta and used a wheelchair for most of her life. When she was fourteen she audited the accessibility of the main street businesses of her hometown.
Throughout the month of February 2020 The BeZine blog is featuring a range of material on illness and disability in concert with Kella Hanna-Wayne’s YOPP!, a social justice blog dedicated to civil rights education, elevating voices of marginalized people and reducing oppression. Our intention in doing this is to give voice to those with illness and disabilities, to raise awareness of the issues and outcomes, and to offer workable alternatives for those who have to manage in environments that are not conducive to inclusion.
We’ve already had some question with regard to terminology: disabled v. differently abled. We respect each contributor’s chosen terminology, which will be reflected in their posts.
Kella and I are disabled and we both prefer that term over differently-abled. Here are my reasons:
- There are things I – like many others – am absolutely unable to do. Period. End of story.
- “Differently abled” is inherently meaningless in this context. All human beings are differently abled. Some are better at music, for example, and others are better at accounting.
- Almost everyone has a degree of disability, especially as aging progresses. If you wear glasses, you are disabled and, depending on your occupation or interests, you might be unable to function without glasses.
- A reference to anyone as a “differently-abled” individual, is a cruel euphemism. In my own case, for example, it diminishes the reality of my 24/7 life, which involves being on high-flow oxygen, being unable to lift anything heavy, being restricted to home, often being restricted to bed, dealing with chronic bleeding due to a rare blood cancer, and living with extreme fatigue.
- “Differently abled” implies a norm that does not exist. There is no one way to feel, to communicate, to educate oneself, or to ponder and create art. The implication is that anything that deviates from the fantasy norm is less than ideal, possibly even somehow wrong.
- “Disabled” is not a disparagement. It’s truth. It’s accurate. Implicit is an acknowledgement that there are productivity and quality-of-life challenges that have everything to do with social, political, and cultural assumptions and structures and nothing to do with any one person’s atypical body or mind.
- Finally, “differently-abled” is a stigmata that ignores the kinds of accommodations (including some life-changing technologies) that could be made available to help those many with atypical bodies and minds to lead fuller, richer lives and to contribute their energy and talent to help others and their communities.
This is the short story, the down and dirty of it. Input is welcome from readers and we hope that you will enjoy and benefit from contributors’ posts throughout the month. We are still open for submissions to the February blog-post series on illness and disability and for submissions to the March 15 issue of the Zine, themed “Waging Peace.” Submissions should be emailed to email@example.com.
In the spirit of love (respect) and community
and on behalf of The Bardo Group Beguines,
The BeZine, Managing Editor
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