This is a short essay about my experience with the words disability and disabled, in relation to my progression of illness and its disabling impact on my life. These words feel insulting, patronising and humiliating, and even more so as my disease develops because they undermine who I am, and appear to be defining me as a person. And so, I would prefer you to just call me Kate… a person with some different needs to others, and diverse ways of operating in this world.
Overview of the word ‘disabled’ and its derivatives.
The following are dictionary definitions of the word disabled, and its many derivatives. On dissecting the word(s), it is easy to see why I feel these words are inappropriate, and also offensive to many individuals who learn differently or operate mentally or physically in differing ways to ‘others’. They were of course, a refreshing change to words such as deformed, retarded, crippled, mental or incurable, but I believe it is time for another review to the ways in which we are labelled.
•Unable to perform particular activities – describes somebody with a condition that makes it difficult to perform some or all of the basic tasks of daily life
•Unable to operate – incapable of performing or functioning
•People who are physically challenged
•Restricted capability to perform some or all of the daily tasks – an inability to perform some or all of the tasks of daily life
•Medical condition restricting activities – a medically diagnosed condition that makes it difficult to engage in the activities of daily life
•Legal disqualifier – something that causes somebody to be regarded in law as ineligible to perform a specific transaction
•Restrict somebody in some activities – to make somebody unable to perform the activities needed to earn a living or carry out the basic tasks of daily life without difficulty
•Stop something from working – to prevent a device or system from working by
disconnecting a part of it
•In position to do something – physically or mentally equipped to do something,
especially because of circumstances and timing
•Capable or talented – having the necessary resources or talent to do something
•Good at learning – education quick to learn in an educational environment
•Having particular abilities
•Not physically or mentally challenged – U.S. having all physical or mental functions
•Roman underworld – in Roman mythology, the region of the dead; Greek
•Treat disrespectfully – to treat somebody without respect, e.g. by being
purposely rude – ‘You are dissing me’
•To criticise somebody or something
The notion of discrimination.
And so I thought I would bring my discussion to the notion of racism and prejudice; most people understand racism as an attitude or set of attitudes towards individuals or groups and prejudice to be the acts of discrimination. While this may be an easy way of clarifying the terms, closer examination highlights different aspects of racism, and therefore of discrimination.
The focus on racism [discrimination] being grounded in the prejudicial beliefs of individuals of some irrational and fanatical persons tends to focus our attention on the beliefs and actions of individuals. However, if we view discrimination as social and cultural rather than individual, our focus leads us to the way discrimination works behind our backs, which is often unseen through social and public policy.
In so doing we can as a group or community participate in racist practices or actions without necessarily holding racist beliefs. This form of racism focuses on discrimination and often is described by the term Institutional racism, which can be defined as highlighting the systemic processes which reproduce disadvantage. However, while institutional racism draws our attention to the workings of the state and other institutions and therefore its actions, we should continue to recognise individual racism and the role of beliefs, which transfer to actions of discrimination. We often think with our beliefs but very rarely think about them.
I believe there is a sense of what Martin Luther King described as the ‘de-generating sense of nobodiness’ amongst many ‘disabled’ people, especially those who are struggling with mental illness, old age and dementia. It is therefore imperative we aspire to change views about disability, and in my view, even the terms applied to us, and to fight for complete dignity and equality within the social systems through transformation of services and attitudes.
There is often a feeling of disconnection as we struggle with the notion of a level playing field, as well as the feeling of ‘otherness’ as we reach out for services that are labeled in ways that make us feel even more different to others, and therefore marginalised. We must continue to battle against the stereotypes, to break with the traditions that are steeped in bias and discrimination that most certainly ensure there still remains a lack of equity for the disabled.