Disabled. A word that many abled bodied and abled minded people see as a dirty word. A word that disabled people are taught to be ashamed to use. A word that takes too many disabled people on one hell of a journey at varying times in their lives.
Personally I went on a journey at 13 that is still ongoing. The way abled people had handled the word made me feel great shame that I still struggle with at times.
Disabled simply means “(of a person) having a physical or mental condition that limits their movements, senses or activities.” It simply means I operate differently in a way that limits certain abilities of mine compared to the average abled person.
Why should that bring me shame, why should I feel dirty for using a word that was created to describe part of my identity, a word that wasn’t created to spread shame like slurs.
Yet somehow abled people have taken a word that should be safe to use and added so much shame to it that people, both abled and disabled, use the word “disabled” less than actual slurs.
Abled people will tell disabled people that nobody can use the word disabled with so much gusto that they often sound angry and/or aggressive but when a disabled person kindly asks the same people to not call them slurs like “cripple” because it makes them uncomfortable and it has negative history (unlike the history of the word disabled until people brought shame to it) suddenly it’s the end of the word and they get offended, angry, aggressive, argumentative and refuse to listen.
A common problem, between abled and disabled people, that only forces this problem to persist is abled people not listening to the needs, concerns and feelings of disabled. If they listened more they’d know of our journeys we’re forced to go on because of them.
With that being said, let me share some of my journey so that those who are willing to listen can learn that “disabled” isn’t a dirty word, just like I had to learn.
When I was just 13, young, vulnerable, impressionable, I was spending my days in a hospital surrounded by abled and often ableist, even if they didn’t realise it, doctors and nurses. I had grown up in an ableist society but the doctors and nurses I spent so much time with, in the scariest and most vulnerable time in my life, were supposed to take care of me and help me get better but they poisoned me with their ableist mindsets. I wasn’t allowed to use the big dirty “D” word, you don’t want to be called that word, if somebody used that word referring to me it meant I was less than human.
Heck when I tried to discuss my autism a doctor told me to forget about it and that I surely don’t want that label on my record, “Once it’s on your record it’s there forever”. More shame flowed into my soul like water rushing down a creek.
I was quite literally stuck in an environment that bred shame, insecurities and self internalised ableism.
Epilepsy was “the E word” and I freaked whenever somebody said the full word around me. CRPS was “the C word”, Autism was “the A word” and so on. God forbid somebody use the “disability” word in my presence!
This lead to dangerous mindset and behaviours. Everyday I tried my best to prove I wasn’t defined by the dirty word by pushing my body past it’s limits and keeping my mind in a state of denial. This is such a dangerous habit that I’m still fighting everyday to break. The whole time the people who were supposed to be helping and protecting me just encouraged me to take part in behaviours that harmed me physically and mentally.
All of this because apparently having limitations due to a condition I happen to have is extremely shameful and the end of the world.
I’ll tell you what’s actually the end of a world.
Pushing myself to prove I’m not disabled so I’m burnt out and fatigued which triggers more seizures which leaves me victim to SUDEP.
Feeling so ashamed of who I am that I fall into deep and severe depression and I take my life.
There are so many different scenarios where people end up seriously injured or worse due to how we treat an innocent word that shouldn’t be treated the way it unfortunately is and in turn the way we treat disabled people because this ridiculous amount of shame abled society has created about what should be a harmless descriptive word.
Unfortunately the disabled community have quite the battle on their hands, as always, to make the abled society listen to our needs. And this isn’t just a need to feel comfortable, a need to feel listened to or a need to feel respected. This is about a need for safety. As I already said, treating disabled as a dirty word is taking disabled lives that matter just as much as any other life. One thing this isn’t about is abled comfort regarding the topic.
I am disabled! I don’t care who’s uncomfortable by me saying that and embracing the fact. The fact of the matter is I’m disabled and my life has only improved since ignoring the ridiculous notions of an ableist society and embracing part of my identity.
I am Renée, I love music and I am disabled.
Since accepting me for me as I am I’ve started living a safer and more enjoyable life. I don’t dangerously push my body to do things it’s physically incapable of doing as much (it’s a journey to break such habits that were engraved into my mind). I do find myself enjoying life in a way I couldn’t when I was pushing myself to be something I’m not. I now get to enjoy things I either can still do or adjust to be doable for me in the way I need. I also get to be apart of the wonderful disability community who are so supportive of me and have my back.
All I ask from you now is that you reconsider how you look at the word “disability” and you treat the word and those who use it. Please also consider your use of actual slurs and how you react to disabled people pointing out your use of certain words that make us uncomfortable or offended.