Thursday, 10 November 2011

"Differently Abled"

More commonalities than differences
I've never been crazy about the phrase "differently abled". I remember first hearing it when I went away to university, in a school sponsored disability-awareness program, and it always struck me as...trying too hard. I think that I don't really like it now because it emphasizes the differences between people with disabilities and non-disabled people, more than the similarities.

"Differently Abled" and "It's All Relative"

I'm not the only one who feels this way, I've noticed. I recently read an article by a man who said that he wished that we'd do away with the practice of having non-disabled people spend a day in a wheelchair or otherwise spend time "experiencing" what a person with a person with a disability does (like going blindfolded for a period of time). He says it just emphasizes what people with disabilities *can't* do, rather than what they can do. Being "differently abled" still means "different".

But I wrote the phrase "it's all relative" while replying to a comment yesterday, after having it in my head in the last couple of days, and yesterday I began to think about what it really meant. For instance, I've been lamenting the fact that one of my cats is getting a bit...hefty. Especially if compare her to a hamster. But compared to a cow, she's very light.

And while I may put on my bra strangely compared to women with two hands, my friend on Facebook who broke her hand and had no idea how she was going to get dressed for work told me that I was a lifesaver when I told her how I did it.

Not So Different from You

That wasn't so long ago...maybe two years. But it was the closest I've come to seeing "differently abled" as something accurate and half-way positive. I have a different skill set than people who use two hands do to do daily activities, yes.

But I still do the same activities as able-bodied people. I buy groceries and make food and make my bed and clean my apartment and do my laundry...I've gone hiking through the forest and downhill skiing (using something they call a sit-ski) and dancing and travelling on my own...

I think that people with disabilities can choose to look at their "difference" from others as absolute or relative, and that the people who look at it as relative tend to have a more positive view of living life with disabilities.

I may be "differently abled", but I'm not so different from the rest of you. Really.

1 comment:

  1. A hamster or a cow? Well that is just insinuation that there is something wrong with being the size of a cow! The cows are going to get upset with that comment... In fact the CoC (Cows of Canada) might just start a stampede!

    I find it very interesting that you were already experienced in disability awareness before you became disabled. I kind of was too. 'Differently abled" is awkward and I agree sounds almost condescending in how much one who says it is "trying too hard" yet as a discriptor of the extraordinary adaptive abilities of some disabled people it might be ok... My very close friend who has no arms and types more quickly and more accurately than I, (when typing with her toes) has skills and abilities most people can't even imagine! I don't know how she puts on her bra but I would bet anything she does it without assistance.

    We must have words and terms that identify us and yet every word has some negative connotations because of the link to the stigma that is forged simply by choosing that word for the description!

    The cows can't win! Down with all anti-cow metaphors!