Thursday, June 19, 2014

Debating Words

Last night we went to the mayoralty debate on disability issues. On the way there, on WheelTrans, we picked up another fellow going to the debate. He and I chatted about issues around disability and politics and identity. We spoke disabled man to disabled man quite comfortably, it was an interesting ride and a great way to spend time when stuck in downtown rush hour traffic.

During the debate itself we heard the candidates say pretty much what you'd expect them to say when trying to win votes from a specific group. I did find myself impressed with a candidate that I hadn't planned on voting for and am considering switching my vote as a result so I'm glad I was there to hear what everyone had to say.

However, something really annoyed me, after the planned questions were asked, one of which was one that I had submitted, there were questions from the audience. An audience member, I could not see if they had a disability or not, insisted that the candidates not use the word 'disability' but 'different abilities' instead. Based on that one person's statement the candidates struggled to comply, their answers becoming more laboured with this new, and unfamiliar term to them, being artificially stuffed into their thoughts.

I was seething. Why is there always the assumption that one speaks for all? I don't like these kinds of ways that we verbally euthanize the word 'disability'. Disability is, it simply is. On the bus we spoke, my fellow rider and I, about the disability community - it wouldn't even make sense to talk about the community of people with different abilities - what the hell would that mean.




There is no shame, in my mind, with those statements and I don't need people to verbally tiptoe around who I am and the identity that comes with the territory.

Good God at a debate of disability issues the word disability suddenly became unwelcome. How freaking odd is that?


Tamara said...

I'm sharing this on Facebook today. I'm tired of the word wars. Honestly, (and I know you won't agree with me on this one, which is fine; I don't always agree with myself on it) but sometimes I just want to stop the anti-R-word "stuff". Why? Because some of the same people who are pouncing all over the R-word are using words like "idiot" and "stupid" and "moron" over and over again. The problem for me is the use of any word as a pejorative that sets apart, in a negative sense, people with lower IQs.

And it's a misuse of the definition anyway. It's not "stupid" for someone to hang an effigy of a public figure - it's mean-spirited and hateful. Having a lower IQ doesn't make you mean-spirited and hateful.

And to euthanize only certain words doesn't seem to change that. Years and years ago I remember a young man I worked with who kept talking about "speds". I questioned him about it because I had never heard the term. It explained it came from "special education". He was later fired for his unprofessional behavior and poor work ethic. Surprise, surprise.

Anonymous said...

Very odd.

And oh, must only one term ever be 'right'? And that only for a while.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dave,

there are so many thoughts entering my head regarding the use of the word disability and differently abled.

There is nothing wrong with a word if it is an discription and not a hateful label.

People are black, disabled, fairys, queer, straight etc.

Only if used in a hateful way this "labels" hurt and should not be used.

I dont know whether I could get my thought across in the right way. But it is a laughable as using "facility manager" for the german "Hausmeister" (he looks that everything in a multi family flat works and looks after the dustbins etc.)

(who is diabled/ has a disability too, and finds it hard to put together everything she can do or not do in a different way....)

emma vanderklift said...

Dave, you've done it again. Your use of the phrase "verbally euthanized" will stick with me. Love it! And the post.
While it can be amusing to listen to the verbal gymnastics and contortions people go through when they are trying to meet some arbitrary version of political correctness, the awkwardness is a dead giveaway. It's window dressing, and attitudes don't really change. And worse, it's a distraction from the real and pressing issues. And WTF is so terrible about disability that we have to go around cloaking it in ridiculous euphemisms anyway?

Nan said...

Doesn't different abilities mean alot of people with a whole bunch of different abilities? Why are the abilities different? I don't even get that one. Ah words, quite honestly ... it is at times a delightful tangle, and at others very vexatious.

B. said...

Sometimes I don't know how to describe myself because of that. It's another social problem - so I'm doing pretty well for a socially handicapped person (perhaps we could devise a number system like the golfers have...)

Thanks, Dave.

rikke said...

And what does "differently abled" even mean? It sort of gives the impression that people with disabilities have special abilities that other people don't. Non-sense.

Mary said...

To me it feels like that non-disabled person in every disability awareness seminar I've ever attended, the one who does a sudden epiphany-face and declares "everyone's a little bit disabled really! I mean, sometimes I have a headache/stub my toe/don't understand what's being said/etc and then I'm disabled too!"

Disabled is a word with a specific definition that usually includes the descriptors "substantial" and "long-term" (or synonyms thereof). These efforts to make it a dirty word make a mockery of the efforts to actually address significant disabling barriers.

"Different abilities" makes it just seem like a non-issue. Put any person next to another person and they will have "different abilities", strengths and weaknesses, it doesn't make either of them disabled.