I was doing my usual skim & sip of one of my Social Work textbooks, a game where I sip coffee much more than skim any words–until I came across my favourite topic: disabled people. Every time I read about people with disabilities in any of my schoolbooks, a little voice in me shrieks, “Oh no, please do this right,” as if the authors of Policy and Legislation for Social Workers are somehow listening. This particular section of the chapter was on social assistance, specifically the people who are most likely to access it. My heart fell as a whole chunk of the paragraph was about “the disabled,”not because many people with disabilities would take a job over tax dollars any day, but because of the terminologyused. “The Disabled,” is a phrase I thought went out with the whole let’s-put-wheelies-in-asylums thing, but I guess not. What follows is why the term bugs me so much.
Perhaps most obviously, putting “the” in front of anything–whether it be food, a name, or your favourite conditioner (the fruity stuff), two things are happening: 1) You’re differentiating, and 2) you’re finalizing. “I want the Justin Bieber haircut” (gross), is quite different from “I want a Justin Bieber haircut,” (still gross, but you’re risking a generic ‘do that makes you look like more like Tegan & Sara or Miley Cyrus than Beibs). The use of “the” allows people to be specific, and differentiate from all those Beliebers who just think short hair is convenient. I’ve taken this example three lines to far, but my point is that “the” separates. In the context of wheelies, it makes it sound like we are an alien race. “The Disabled” is right up there with “The Blacks,” “The gays” and “The Extraterrestrials”. People with disabilities are not a distinct being, they just are.
Then there’s the “Disabled” part of this phrase. My issue with this is simple: The word “disabled,” standing alone or not(not standing at all…–___–), is an active, not passive descriptor. By nature of the term, it is understood that the person actively plays a part in maintaining a disability. It almost sounds like an ongoing affliction that needs keeping up, rather than a circumstance that just is. Humour me on this for a second. Think about if we were to say someone is “Blacked” or “Gayed” or “Womened”. We don’t because guess what–that’s doesn’t make sense, and would be incredibly offensive if it was accepted as proper English. Why? Well of course, by saying someone is “Gayed” were implying that their being gay is a circumstance they choose or have been chosen by, rather than just a sexual orientation they identify with. Looking at it from this angle highlights the need to look at people as having disability, rather than being “disabled”.
Anyway, whatever. I think my textbook is due for an edit, and I’m due for Sunday Wine.