What It Means To Be “Differently-Abled”

For a long time, I and many people like me have found the word “disabled” deeply offensive. The prefix “dis” means to be apart from something in a bad way. For example, “discontinued” usually means a product was faulty or not popular enough to continue making it, so it’s been discontinued. “Disadvantaged” means that someone or some people do not have the same advantages as their peers, so they are not in the same socioeconomic position as them.

So when someone is disabled, it usually means that they can’t do something, and that impacts them in a negative way. They’re broken, not as good as someone else.

Isn’t that a very negative and cruel thing to say?

I want you to think of someone that you know, and what ability do they have that you admire but don’t have in yourself? Why don’t you have it? Could you achieve it?

If not, then isn’t that a disability?

Who sets the definition for what is and is not required? Don’t we all have a disability with something, somehow, in some way?

When I was young, I was diagnosed with arrested non-shunted borderline hydropephalus, mild spina bifida and scoliosis, mild cerebral ataxia and a low-tone hearing loss. Within a few years of my diagnosis, white markings appeared on the road outside our driveway. They marked one very damning message outside my home: DISABLED.

That was me, condemned.

The problem with being “disabled” is that it immediately labels the individual as not enough. Not good enough, not smart enough, not fit and able-bodied enough. But many disabled people are enough, it’s just that sometimes they just need some support from someone or something in order to be able to manage it.

But how many able-bodied people need a little extra help and support sometimes? Admit it, how often have you asked someone for a spell-check or asked for some assistance in some way?

As an excellent example, let us look at Stephen Hawking. Stephen Hawing lived with Lou Gehrig’s disease and depended on a motorised wheeichair and his famed eye gaze device just to be able to get around and communicate with the world, yet he was nothing short of an exemplary genius. He had thoughts and insights on the world that could inspire generations and his sense of humour was second to none.

How many people could claim they have a mind like Stephen’s? Very few, if any.

A funny story for you, I could never do gymnastics at school. Along with my scoliosis, I also developed hypermobility which doctor’s told my parents was double-jointedness, and to enrol me in a gymnastics class as soon as possible. I later attended a sports centre linked with world-famous ice skater Robin Cousins, where I got promptly removed for being the slowest in my class. Gymnastics had never really been my forté, after all.

But having failed in one area, doesn’t mean I go on to fail in all areas.

I’m not disabled, I’m differently-abled.

So what if I can’t do handstands, cartwheels and forward rolls? I’ve been noticed and commended for my quick wit and positive outlook on life.

So what if I was the slowest in my class on the track? I’ve won awards for my leadership skills n canoeing.

I may not have succeeded in gym class, but I’ve far exceeded many of my able-bodied peers in life and living. I may need jar openers and grab rails, but I dress well and I’m known for my cooking capabilities.

We need to do away with the term “disabled” and embrace words like “support” orf better equality. Grab rails and disability aids need to stop being advertised as tools for disabled people and be advertised more inclusively as support aids. Everyone needs a little support in some way sometimes, and that’s perfectly okay.