It’s become a trend the in past 10 years. Suddenly someone decides that a word that’s been used in polite society for decades, is now somehow offensive. They take to social media-the invention of which, I believe, can be held partially responsible for this phenomenon-where within 24 hours their outrage is trending. Everyone from celebrities to the news media begin frothing with equal parts shame for their prior ignorance, self righteous pride at their new found level of wokeness, and groveling thankfulness for the individual who pointed out their linguistic iniquities. Then, the word in question is relegated to the ash heap of history, never to be uttered again by those wishing not to be immediately canceled by the hordes of busybodies who have nothing better to do.
There are, of course, certain words and phrases that do deserve to have an end put to them. Racial, ethnic, religious, socioeconomic, gender, or physical/mental ability slurs have no place in society. However, the way to change the use of such language is not through sweeping bans hastily imposed by those on Twitter, but rather an honest, respectful conversation that allows for education with a gradual but eventual goal of stopping the behavior.
There has been, in recent years, such a debate in a community to which I belong. It has sometimes been respectful and honest, and other times not so. But in my opinion, it’s been entirely unnecessary from the start. So what is this word? This “D” word that like Voldemort must not be named…
I must confess, before we go any further, that I used to reside on the other side of this debate. I despised the word and others like it, such as handicapped-which becomes a real problem when you’re trying to ask where the certain type of parking space you require is. “You know, the parking area with blue lines, a wheelchair, and a sign saying only people like me can park there, but that most people ignore and park in anyway!?”
I indulged in using words like “differently abled” and “handicrapped,” which I admit I still have a certain affinity for that last one. Alas, in the last few years though, I finally saw the light and shed my chains.
I am disabled.
It’s true. I was born with a disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and because of it there are abilities that I cannot do, and most likely never will be able to do. Calling me differently abled or handicrapped will not change those facts. It instead, only reinforces the damaging idea that I, and any others with disabilities, cannot possibly handle the despair of being reminded that we are in fact, disabled. “Wait. You’re telling me that I’m in this wheelchair not just because I’m awesome and lazy and don’t like walking, but because I’m… disabled?!”
“But, Andrew” you say, “what about the fact that using that word reinforces negative stereotypes about such people, and that they don’t have things to contribute to society?”
Rubbish! That’s what I say.
Using the word disabled is not what reinforces ignorant ideas about those with disabilities. It is the people who hold those ignorant ideas, and the ideas themselves, that reinforce them.
The word disabled does not inherently come with any malice. Rather, society through ignorance has thrust them upon it. It should not be on the many-who hold no malice or discrimination in their heart or mind-to acquiesce to the loud but few minority and alter their language. It should instead be on the ignorant and discriminatory few to abandon their wrongheaded misconceptions.
Similarly, it is on us all to radiate the truth that treating those with disabilities as equals-no more or less-is the only option.
For those without disabilities, it is on you to root out and rebuff discrimination and ignorance wherever it might rear its ugly head. When your friend or colleague makes a dumb joke, call them out. When a business you patronize doesn’t have a ramp or isn’t accessible, kindly ask them why they don’t want the business of 20+% of population. Talk to your kids about how they should treat people with disabilities, namely, exactly like everyone else. Don’t include us because you feel obligated to out of pity, but because you want to and you enjoy our company… or don’t, people with disabilities can be just as big of jerks as anyone else. Yes, there are abilities that we cannot do, or might need some help with-and it is not offensive to offer such assistance-but at the deepest, most basic human level we are just like you and want to be treated as such.
For those of us with disabilities-this is going to sound unfair, and it is, but it’s also true for the time being-we have to show the world how smart, funny, cool, nice, kind, loving, often sarcastic, even more often awesome, and how all the time down right normal we are. We have to, to a certain point, be better at what we can do than those around us. We have to reclaim for ourselves the definition of disabled, what it means to be disabled.
You see, being disabled is just a small part of who we are. It can only create a mere outline of us, not define nor confine us. So, why assign it unnecessary power? We are not someone pitifully, helpless, and to be coddled and condescended. But rather, artists, actors, doctors, lawyers, chefs, pundits, politicians, influencers, grocery store clerks, business owners, waiters and waitresses, preachers, pastors, teachers, athletes, writers, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, cousins, friends, different and the same, independent but in need of help sometimes, disabled, and completely and remARCably normal.
For some reason, I have this picture in my head of disabled people taking pictures of themselves to post on Instagram doing the most mundane, boring, and normal things in life while wearing black t-shirts that just say “disabled” on them in white. But, maybe that’s going a bit too far?
Instead, I’ll just settle for us being us. Disabled and all.
Well, those are my remARCs. I hope they in some way, big or small, might have resonated with you. Whether it made you laugh, cry (I hope not too much), smile, or maybe think about life from a different perspective, I hope you take something away from this article that makes your day even the slightest bit better. I’d love to hear your remARCs as well. Feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment on the My RemARCs Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram pages… unless you hated it. In which case, why are you even still reading this? Hope to see you back here soon. Until then, be well and live remARCably.