Posted by Ainslee Hooper
On November 9, 2020

10 things to know about the word ‘disability’.

It’s time for another weekly round of ’10 things to know about’ and this week it’s about the word ‘disability’. Let’s just jump straight to my list. 

1. Disability is not a dirty word.

2. Disability is not a dirty word.

3. Disability is not a dirty word.

4. Disability is not a dirty word

5. Do I need to say it again? Ok!

6. Disability is not a dirty word.

7. Disability is not a dirty word.

8. Disability is not a dirty word.

9. Disability is not a dirty word.


Ok so it’s a bit of a different list this week, but for a reason. Recently I came across an article “12 different ways to say disabled” and reading it really got to me. Reading the article, I then found the original article the above article was talking about “Viewpoint: Is it time to stop using the word “disability”?” and in doing so my anger went up another notch. 

Can we PLEASE stop the discussion about different ways to say disabled or disability? These conversations are harmful for two reasons: 

Firstly, these conversations confuse people outside of the disability community to the point that they are scared of using the wrong terminology when addressing us, to which I say use the preferred disability pronoun of the person you are talking to. Secondly, these conversations are ableist. They suggest that there is something wrong with the word ‘disability’. Even though I am a person with a disability, I used to be one of these people. Therefore to see people who are not disabled having these conversations, makes me angry because they are just perpetuating an ableist myth that there’s something wrong with having a disability. 

I will note that these articles were written from the perspective of a parent of a child with a disability, and not being in their position, I cannot speak to the experience of a parent of a child with a disability. However, I find it extremely dangerous to see a person with a disability described as “…someone who has an impairment to set them apart from the majority”. Why is this dangerous? Because it is continuing to subscribe to the medical model of disability, focusing on the impairment and not society that’s not yet sufficiently accessible and inclusive to embrace these impairments and let people just be. We do NOT need to stop using the word disability. 

While the language around disability is an interesting topic on its own, focusing on the history of the language of disability should not give us reason to think of new words. In my latest podcast with Tricia Malowney, Tricia pointed out a perfect example of this. What was once known as Sheltered Workshops has since been relabeled and yet the issues that surrounded Sheltered Workshops still continue in the 21st century. There is this idea that if we rename something to something that sounds more positive, more palatable, the issues will go away. They do not. It is true that in some cases language has progressed to be more inclusive, but that’s not just because of the word. It is about what has happened in society that has resulted in that word being used and other words scrapped. 

However, when it comes to disability, society is now at a point where we know that disability is only negative when we think about it in terms of the medical model. That is, there is something wrong with the person, and it is expected that the person will have a certain life and have struggles. When we think of disability with the social model that is now used, we understand that disability isn’t the problem. Yes, there will be medical issues that a person may still have to face, but society needs to adapt to ensure it is inclusive and accessible for people with disabilities because we aren’t going away.  There is nothing dirty about us, we will still be the same people with the same needs regardless of the word being used to describe us. Our conditions aren’t going away. 

So please stop the discussions about the best terms to use, ask the individual what they prefer as you would a person when asking them about the gender pronouns. Next time you question these terms, ask yourself why you are questioning the terms. Is it because YOU find the word unpalatable? If so, why? Are you pushing your own ideals onto someone else with a disability? 

Some food for thought to start the week. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter, disabled or not. This is a conversation that is still needed right now. 

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