Disability Defining and a Necessary Change in Rhetoric
As a person with a disability, I can’t keep track of how many times I have been referred to as a “disabled person.” First of all, thank you, truly, for putting my disability before who I am as a person, as that does leaps and bounds for my self-esteem. Secondly, I feel for those individuals who you have referred to as such in the past. Let me, potentially, be the first to tell you that, for all intents and purposes, that’s not the correct identification. Before you lose your mind due to the fact that I have disrupted a deeply-ingrained thought process, allow me to explain the difference.
Something called people-first language is put in place when people with disabilities are referred to as such, putting the person at the forefront and not the disability. Instead of autistic person, per se, you would say person with autism. Instead of wheelchair-bound, you would say person who uses a wheelchair. A few extra words can make all the difference.
With this in mind, articles have been written for and against this necessary change in rhetoric. While disability-first language, as I will call it, is poor form, others dispute that people-first language is just as distasteful. The focal point behind this thought process stems from the idea that an individual’s disability is looked at in a negative light when people-first or person-first language is used. “Though person-first language is designed to promote respect, the concept is based on the idea that disability is something negative, something that you shouldn’t want to see,” wrote Cara Liebowitz in a 2015 piece on the subject. Essentially, Liebowitz thinks that her disability should be mentioned when she is being referred to, as it is a part of who she is. She writes, “The idea of separating the disability from the person stems from the idea that disability is something you should want to have separated from you, like a rotten tooth that needs to be pulled out.”
Admittedly my stance on the topic changes depending on the situation I am presented with and a concrete response on Liebowitz’s ideas is something that I have yet to establish, even after reading her piece three times through. I much prefer “person with a disability” over “disabled person.” I am not a girl with cerebral palsy, but much more that should be considered first before my disability is even approached in conversation. While “person with a disability” is more respectful than “disabled person”, that poses the question of whether a disability should be mentioned at all.
Would you prefer to have your disability mentioned in conversation when you are first being introduced to someone, not at all, or at another point? Do you identify as a “person with a disability”, a “disabled person”, or neither?
Welcome To My Life: The Oh-So Typical Cerebral Palsy Edition
Living with Cerebral Palsy, I am recognized as such: The Girl with Cerebral Palsy and more often than not, not for who I am as a person. Allow me to save you an awkward introduction with a plethora of explanations that you don’t need: My name is Madison, I am a twenty-one year old, caffeine-addicted, concert-attending bookworm who happens to have Cerebral Palsy.
Now, if that isn’t exactly what you are looking for, allow me time to explain what you probably, truly, want to know: I was born three months premature simply because I wanted to grace the world with my lovely presence a little earlier than planned. Because of this, I was naturally a pretty small kid; two pounds and one ounce, to be exact. Because I was so tiny, getting oxygen to my brain was a task similar to climbing Mount Everest as a few-day-old baby: I couldn’t. With that being said, what followed is what I call The Stroke, capitalized not only for emphasis but because according to family and friends that was the moment that turned things on its head. I had a stroke due to that pesky lack of oxygen to my brain.
What usually happens with strokes in children is medical professionals do not know the effect it had until months later, when the child is developing cognitively and is a bit more mobile. It wasn’t until a check-up that doctors asked my parents, “Does she favor one hand over the other?”
“Yes, definitely her left,” I’m assuming they answered, unknowingly.
They were then informed that children my age don’t have a dominant hand, thus explaining the after-effects of the stroke. What followed was realizing my right eye needed surgery and my right leg wasn’t quite right either. I’m sensing a theme…
As I grew up, my “limitations” were increasingly apparent, making everything from getting dressed in the morning before school to cutting up food for lunch a little harder than it needed to be. Now, twenty-one years later, I’d like to think that I have pretty much overcome what was daunting growing up. I have two college degrees and a full-time job, I can drive a car, and did I mention that I am a fully-independent adult? I’m doing just fine.
With that being said, there are one million things that I have yet to discover. This blog is being used, in part, to facilitate a conversation about a necessary topic: Living with a disability. I hope that by reading this blog and reading my thoughts you feel welcome to share your stories, struggles, and triumphs. Most of all, I hope this blog helps its readers realize that you are not a disabled person, you are a person with a disability, living life like everyone else.
Until The Next Adventure,
disAbility Connections, Inc. 409 Linden Ave. Jackson, MI 49203 Phone: (517) 782-6054 Fax: (517) 782-3118