What Does It Mean to Be Disabled?

Someone on Twitter asked two different questions. He asked if autistics preferred person-first language (person with autism) or “autistic person.” I have given my answer to that. He then asked if disabled people preferred “person with a disability” or “disabled people.” I want to share my answer to that:

I have autism, but the only reason I’m disabled is because of how I’m treated by everyone else. I can’t keep a job because of the ableism and prejudices of neurotypical people, not because of me. So it would be “person with disabilities” since I’m not disabled.

Of course, there are autistic people out there whose autism is so severe that it becomes a disability regardless of everybody else. But there’s a majority of us for whom we are disabled by others rather than inherently disabled by our way of existing in the world, our perceptions, our interactions, our ways of thinking, our behaviors, our bioculture. From this perspective, one would have to argue that someone from a different culture who comes to the United States is “disabled” because of how everyone treats them. The difference is that people mistake autistics as being part of the neurotypical bioculture when they’re not. And it’s that which is disabiling more often than not.

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2 thoughts on “What Does It Mean to Be Disabled?

  1. It sounds like, in a way, people are being defined not by their characteristics but by the absence or diminishment of certain characteristics.
    Imagine if we described animals this way! A not ground living, not sedentary, not lethargic, not feathered, not uncommon animal–from that description could you guess that i am talking about a squirrel?
    Its very imprecise. It also leaves out so much. Is it any wonder people have difficulty grasping the vague concept of “dis”ability?
    And then there is the moral judgment attached to the term disabled, usually in comparison to an idealized “able” member of the species. This ideal, as modern science has proven, does not exist. We are all, individually and as a species, in a constant state of morphing and flux, of which what we call “disability” can be an expression.
    Then there’s the implication of the word “disabled.” The callous pointing out that someone does not fit in: a land tortoise condemned for his poor swimming. A fish who cant climb a tree.
    Language can be such a bully.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Exactly. And this is aside from the long history of “you don’t look/behave/believe.think like me, so therefore you are subhuman” that we as a species has been evolving away from for a while now. People seem to really want this one to linger, because the people who would usually be against racism/sexism/ageism/et al forms of discrimination are still more than happy, it seems, to discriminate against autistics.

      Liked by 1 person

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