I’m disabled. I have disabilities. It’s okay, breathe. You can cope with this knowledge. You don’t need to call me “differently abled” or pretend the “dis” is an unimportant part of the world. There are things I can’t do that are particularly valued or required in the world and culture I live in. It’s a truth, and acknowledging it won’t kill either of us.
Disabilities exist. One in four US adults have a disability. People in every nation have disabilities. Our prehuman ancestors had disabilities. Animals can have disabilities, inborn or acquired or foisted on them by humans like my poor declawed cat. Disability exists and it’s okay to admit that head on.
Some conditions confer benefits. Autistic people may have more accurate memory recall. Deaf people may have exceptional visual processing speed. But a disability by definition includes an impairment, something that person can’t do that is deemed necessary. Even honed compensation methods don’t give us super powers. Daredevil is fiction; blind people can’t hear so well that it undoes the disability.
I understand the temptation to play down the significance of disability. It lets you avoid confronting your own human frailty. It lets you refuse accommodating disability based needs. After all, if I have such prominent ABILITY, do I really need or deserve extra time to take a test, or financial benefits, or closer parking?
Impairment happens, but disability is made. Collectively, we decide which skills will be crucial, and which ones won’t. Not being able to verbally speak is a disability in a way that not being able to whistle isn’t, because we’ve decided whistling is not necessary. Reading is a necessary skill in my culture, so dyslexia is both an impairment and a disability. If we prized singing as much as we do writing, being tone deaf would be a disability as well. In cultures with tonal languages, it is.
Culture is what makes an impairment disabling. Impairment will still exist regardless of culture; some people cannot see, cannot walk, cannot speak. But where there is true acceptance, accommodation, and inclusion of impaired people, there is less disability and more ability. Instead of telling yourself we disabled are already able, help make changes in the world to ENable people with impairments.