Disabled vs Differently Abled – Which term to Use?

Disabled Vs Differently Abled, which term to use?

I am sss..ss.sorry, this is taking too long”, she apologizes, as she was trying to drive her wheelchair, out of the elevator. I cut her even before she finished the sentence. “Don’t apologize, you’re good”. We headed the same direction for a while. She is independent, she is self-sufficient, she is not sorry for herself – she acknowledges her disability.

The term disability is defined in different ways by various institutions and organizations. As per the, National Center on Disability and Journalism (NCDJ) recommendations, “Disability” and “disabled” generally describe functional limitations that affect one or more of the major life activities, including walking, lifting, learning and breathing. However, in our day-to-day life, when we come across someone with such disabilities, we often tend to overcompensate, by using terms like specially-abled, differently abled, etc. Though this comes from a place of providing more inclusivity and empathy, what we end up doing here is provide an escapist means, without acknowledging the elephant in the room.

As Virali rightly pointed out during our website launch, we are all, after all, temporarily abled. Each time we call them differently abled, we are in denial of what is a very genuine experience for the disabled individual. The term’s usage is borderline controversial as it was coined in an effort to depoliticize disability. It essentially tries to reassure disabled individuals that we are healthy, but different, which might be true for most part, but it does not make the situation any better. While we care about being politically correct, we are falling behind taking appropriate actions, at a societal level, since all we now care about is using the right terms.

Even in a literal sense, the community puts forward that there is nothing ‘different’ about their abilities. They are unique, just like everyone else who is physically capable. Some of them need wheelchairs, use hearing aids, have different limbs, require caregivers, or none of these things, or more.

The difference however lies in the fact that they don’t have the stage set up for them. People with disabilities have the added burden of fighting for inclusion and accessibility in society – a struggle that healthy individuals, whether allies or not, will never completely comprehend. Because of this, phrases like “differently abled,” “unique,” and “inspirational” are offensive to the disability community. Though well intentioned, more often than it, it doesn’t serve the purpose of helping them.  It seeks to transform the daily hardships that disabled people face, because of the ableist society, by mere tags. Instead, if we all can do our bit, and help them it would probably mean a lot more.

As cliché as it sounds, actions do speak louder than words. We may not be able to set the complete stage for them, but we sure can, in out own ways, make the stage accessible in the ableist society, making it even more uplifting and constructive.

About the Author

Sreya S Pothuraju

An Ambivert, Neuro-enthusiast, who believes that kindness and well intended actions can make the world a better place.

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