Language Difficulties Around Disability (Or – Why You May Have To Choose Your Words Carefully)

There is a term which I find frustratingly ambiguous when it is applied to Disabled People.  It used to be one of those “Politically Correct” terms which were used to disguise the difficulties the “able-bodied” members of society had in facing up to having Disabled people in their surroundings.  Would someone please explain to me exactly how “Differently Abled” is supposed to cover Disability adequately???

I would classify myself as “Differently Abled” as a result of being able to speak and understand the Dutch language, being able to write eloquently on a wide variety of subjects, being able to cook my favourite dish of “nasi goreng” (an Indonesian rice dish), etc.  Having lousy eyesight is definitely not something which I feel falls under the classification of “Differently Abled” – in fact – it is what renders me Disabled (more in certain situations than others).

But what really upsets me is the thoughtless words, phrases and terms which some people use without reaiising the offence they cause me merely by doing so.

“If you can’t see that you must be blind”.

“Should hae gone to Specsavers” (nice idea – apart from the fact they don’t deal with my prescription – or any prescription anywhere near it).

and my particular favourite;

“Everybody else can do…. so why can’t you???”

And that is before ou get round to the nasty habit some people have of misappropriating terms for (sometimes seriously debilitating) conditions such as Mental Health problems, or other physical difficulties.

After all, how many times have you heard someone talk about another person being “OCD about their record collection”, etc???

On the flip side to that – I have one particular friend who admitted that – on finding out about my sight problem – they ended up “self-censoring” in order not to cause me any offence.

This means “Do you see what I mean?” turned into “Do you understand where I am coming from?”.

Sometimes I wonder how I am supposed to react when someone says “its like the Blind leading the blind”.  Am I supposed to take major offence or am I allowed to laugh it off.  Most of the time I will come up with my own version “its like the Blind leading the Seriously Shortsighted”.

Seriously – the best way around language and Disability is to let the Disabled person take the lead and follow them.

Of course there are terms I would use to describe myself which I would be seriously offended if anyone used them to describe me – unless they knew me very well.  One of my favourites (which has appeared on “Inkyworld” occassionally) is – a Member of the “Bat Brigade (Blind as a)”.

Most of all – listen to the Disabled person and allow them to educate you about their limitations and what you can do to make their life easier.  We are an open lot and we like educating those of you who are willing to learn (at least I know I am).

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