Reporting it Right tells us that we must use “person first language”. We must say that we are people with disabilities and put the focus on our personhood, lest Joe Public get confused about whether we fit in the animal, vegetable or mineral column.
Let me make this quite clear. I do not identify as a person with a disability. I’m a disabled person. And I’ll be a monkey’s disabled uncle if I’m going to apologise for that.
In her latest column, Lisa Egan sums up why many people identify as disabled people as opposed to people with disabilities.
I just have a real problem with the phrase “person with a disability” and the notion of “having a disability.”
I am disabled. More specifically, I am disabled by a society that places social, attitudinal and architectural barriers in my way. This world we live in disables me by treating me like a second-class citizen because I have a few impairments — most obviously a mobility impairment.
Like Lisa, I subscribe to the social model of disability, which makes a clear distinction between impairment and disability. Impairment describes our physical or neurological state – like paraplegia or blindness – while disability is created by the barriers we encounter in society – like buildings with no lifts or information not being provided in formats we can access. To say that a person “has a disability” is to say that these barriers are our responsibility. My disability exists not because I use a wheelchair, but because the broader environment isn’t accessible.
In my own home, where I’ve been able to create an environment that works for me, I’m hardly disabled at all. I still have an impairment, and there are obviously some very restrictive things about that, but the impact of disability is less. In environments that are less disabling, I’m free to refer to myself in other ways that make me feel proud. In fact, “crip” is my preferred identifying term.
There’s a lot more to chew on with respect to language choices in the full article, and there’s less arsehattery than usual in the comments (which still means too much for some people, I know).