Everyone’s disabled now, and that’s a problem

During the 20 years since B was born, she has gone from being mentally handicapped, to having special needs, to being severely disabled, to having high support needs, but now apparently she is merely ‘disabled’.

And I’m not comfortable with that.

It’s hard to discuss because it makes people very angry, as I found out this week on twitter.

Language has become an emotive issue on social media, with many people (like me) wary of some topics because we don’t know the current terms in use and the backlash can be ferocious if you get it wrong.

Some believe that changing language can change attitudes, and I agree: but the meaning of the favoured new words has to be crystal clear, especially in this area, where words affect attitudes, policies and the lives of real people.

Disabled is now the preferred term, yet someone walking with a limp can call themselves disabled, as one mother pointed out in a radio interview this week.

If that’s how the public and policy makers think of disability, then they will never consider children and adults like my daughter in their plans.

Families like mine feel betrayed, ignored and abandoned, by the state, the media, and even sometimes the disability community itself. The current public discourse simply denies the existence of severe and profound disabilities.

Worse, I’ve noticed a trend for the term ‘severe disabilities’ to be flung around like confetti at a wedding, especially for inspirational stories like the ‘severely disabled’ man who has a brownie bakery in the US. Great for him, but he bears no resemblance to my daughter. And a journalist I respect asked on twitter to speak to a severely disabled person yesterday. I’d love to see her try to get a usable answer from my non verbal daughter. The only time that severe disabilities seem to be used correctly is in the reporting of medical negligence cases.

The denial seeps through every level of state and society: Through policy, language, and by ignoring any attempt to discuss the issues.

My eyes were opened in 2001 when I was searching for a school for my daughter and all I was offered was a so-called Day Development Centre (DDC) where she would get great care, but no access to teachers. When I challenged this, the existence of DDCs was denied by the State. So we took a case to court, and it was settled in my daughter’s favour. Because children in Ireland have a constitutional right to an education, and that means access to a teacher. However that’s the only right that has helped my daughter. As an adult, she has no rights, especially as Ireland has still not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

So clarity is needed, rights are needed, and so is understanding and inclusivity.

This article has been doing the rounds, and is an explanation of why we should all use the term ‘disabled’, and I like most of it, apart from the last paragraph:

“We see, hear, speak, think, learn, process, read, write, move, and/or feel in ways that are less common than most.” 

Because, you see, my daughter and many others like her, cannot do all those things.

Once again, her existence is being denied by being called ‘disabled’.

Personally I liked the term ‘special needs’ because it sounds positive, whereas disabled sounds negative to me, but I’m happy to describe my daughter as ‘disabled’, as long as her needs and disabilities are also included in its meaning.

I also do not believe that our lives are tragic or that my daughter suffers as this article seems to suggest, even if others feel that way. Nor would I describe my 20 year old as a ‘baby’ despite her functioning level (and that’s a post for another day).

I think if more support, more positive coverage, real rights and real help was provided to the disability community and their carers, then many of these issues would go away. For now the State is happy to sit back, do little, spend less, and watch us all fight each other.

There’s a long way to go. Only yesterday a well dressed tourist whispered “God Rest Her”, as he watched B in the street. “She’s not f*ckin’ dead yet!” was the reply I wanted to give. Instead I smiled, because I’m sure he meant well, and he’d probably never seen or read about anyone like my disabled daughter before…


10 thoughts on “Everyone’s disabled now, and that’s a problem

  1. You have said what many feel and written it beautifully.

    I recently read a post on Facebook where a lady said her son with “severe learning disabilities” had just passed his driving test. She wrote it to give hope to others but it just left me feeling very sad. I am still trying to stop my 10 year old from knocking everything in reach onto the floor.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I completely get what you are saying.

    Another thing that bugs me is when organisations, including charities, say they work with disabled people, and yet I get the feeling they like their disabled people to be not ‘too disabled’. As long as they can transfer when needs be & toilet themselves they are OK to be included.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I am absolutely with you on this Candi – my Smiler has some skills your lovely B doesn’t, but still at almost 16 he can only walk for a short distance on a level surface with support, his speech is understandable to those who spend a lot of time with him and he tends to say a couple of words and we fill in the blanks! He can’t read or write – or hold a pen or pencil – and his understanding of the world around him is toddler level, but actually saying that means there are people who will tut at my lack of ambition for him, or tell me I shouldn’t say things like that. He can’t contribute meaningfully to a discussion of his future because he doesn’t understand the concepts, though of course you take into account his likes and dislikes. Asking him about what he wants to do when he’s grown up is like asking a new born baby how good a job they felt the midwife did – the capacity to understand the question is just not there! It is difficult when the meanings that the world at large use change for a specific term – severe learning disability relates to an IQ level between 20 and 34, and a person with SLD cannot run a bakery or pass a driving test!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Your final sentence speaks volumes, I expect some if not most of the people making the rules, adjusting labels and terminology do not have direct understanding or experience of “special needs”. You are spot on when you say inclusion and education is required in order for things to change positively.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s