The social model of disability recognizes all these ways of being impaired or different. Some bodies don’t walk or have limited mobility. Accommodations like wheelchair ramps, elevators, pain medication, and accessible apartments can enable a wheelchair user. Lack of these disables wheelchair users. For example, less than 10% of apartments in America are wheelchair accessible, making it nearly impossible for such people to visit friends or attend parties.
Quality of medical care can make a big difference in how disabled someone feels. Two below-the-knee single leg amputees, one with great healthcare and one without, can have very different outcomes. Someone without sufficient healthcare coverage may not be able to afford a comfortable high quality prosthetic, or any at all. They are disabled by lack of accommodation.
If someone can afford the right prosthetic, doctors, and pain medication, then within a year of amputation they can be walking around on their new leg. They will still be impaired; their body will still be different in a less optimal way and getting ready in the morning may still take more time. But they may or may not feel disabled. Their prosthetic may close the gap between them and abled people enough.
There are very few ways my government protects disabled people like me. I’m not guaranteed a home or a doctor or a dollar to my name. Disability payments are too small to survive, but taking side earnings is illegal. If a disabled person marries, their payments are cut even further, and a disabled couple on benefits can never marry if they want to live indoors.
What few protections we do have are afforded to us by the Americans with Disabilities Act. It’s for people with disabilities, not differences or special skills. Disabled is a legal category, and the rights I have under that category don’t extend to quirks or distinctions. Social Security doesn’t give benefits for differences, only disabilities
All people are unique, but only certain – disabling – differences are protected by this legal category. Labels can be hateful, but they can also be useful. Disabled is a helpful label with specific legal protections and in some cases financial benefits. It’s not a slur, and it’s not rude to acknowledge our existence. We are disabled, and with accommodation we could be less so.