For quite a while I was thinking about the term "differently abled" that sometimes is used instead of disabled. I haven't really used it myself, but heard lots of progressive people praising it and being so happy about "different abilities". From the first sigh it might look like a great term - concentrating on the positive instead of the negative, but taking a closer look into it we can realise how deeply problematic it is. First of all - different from what? Isn't everyone different in some ways and has different abilities? Using the term "differently abled" actually reinforces the idea that there is only one way of being. One "correct/right" way of existing, thinking, communicating, feeling, moving - you name it. Everything else that does not fit into someone's imaginary normality is classed as "different" "abnormal/not normal" (it is used to refer to disabled people in this case). Obviously that way even further contributing to patronising, stigmatizing and dehumanizing of disabled people. It does not matter how much one wishes or believes that the term might suggest that everyone is different and just exists in their own way, it does not. It rather suggests that there is one "acceptable" way of being and the other "different" "not so acceptable" way.
It also has the same patronising tone as the term "special needs", "challenging" etc. and suggest that being called disabled should be something to avoid, something to be ashamed of.. Many times these terms are used as more of a way for those non disabled people (who in most cases lead the discussion about disability) to feel better about themselves and deny (consciously or non consciously) any chance to answer the questions leading to acceptance instead of this tolerance. Disability makes them uncomfortable. It's like saying "at least they (disabled people) are not completely useless, they are good at something too" and continues the association of one's worth to exist with ability to work, be "functional", contribute to the society. World still thinks that my existence is tragic, not worth living and keeps reminding me how many times harder I have to try to be given the right to exist, to take the space, to talk...
The term "differently abled" does not only understate, but in many cases even ignores the reality and struggles disabled people have to go through their daily lives. It denies the impact of systematic oppression and suggests that disability is one person's problem rather than society's. Why should we let the society ignore the fact that they are disabling us and comfort to their patronising tone?
Society already does a very good job at ignoring the systematic oppression and ableism. And by refusing to acknowledge that we are disabled by the society's lack of accommodation to our physical and neurological differences from so called typical minds and bodies, we are letting society to know that they do not need to look at the ways they are making us disabled. Disability does not exist on its own. We have to realise that disability is a complex interaction between social, cultural, political & other structures and individual's minds/bodies. It is institutional, systematic and personal ableism that creates disability. And we don't need to deny it exists.
So yeah, that's why finally I decided that I won't start using the term "differently abled" as this language only helps to reinforce already existing oppression of disabled people.
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