Nothing irks me more in this world than when I (a disabled person) tell someone I’m disabled and they are so quick to respond with “you’re not disabled you are differently able/ have different abilities”. It reminds me that our society as a whole thinks that disability is the worst thing that can happen to a person and are uncomfortable with disabled people recognizing that they have a limitation, but disability isn’t a tragedy. Sure, theatre is something I can’t do because of my disability (the very definition of the word) but what disability isn’t is a tragedy

I seem to become painfully aware of this phenomenon every year during developmental disabilities awareness month every year. I do understand on some level why neurotypical/able-bodied people tend to strongly push “person-first language”. I’ve been through diversity and inclusion training for multiple jobs and it’s always so clear that this training was made by non-disabled people. There’s always so much focus on language and making sure that the non-disabled people are comfortable talking to and about disabled people, it’s almost like pushing in your head that calling someone disabled is an insult. But I guarantee most disabled people have been called things worse than disabled (burden, failure, lazy and stupid come to mind) but disabled is just a descriptor.

Person first language is a way of phrasing things so you say the person before the disability. A person with autism rather than autistic or persons with disabilities rather than a disabled person. But we don’t do this anywhere else in society. We don’t say “person who teaches “we call them a teacher. It makes me wonder why we only use this language when it comes to disabled people and when I hear it feels like the non-disabled person Is reminding themselves to view me as a person. A neurotypical able-bodied person has absolutely no business telling a disabled person how they should identify and feel about their own disability.

I’ve been told to refer to myself as a person with autism and when I asked the reasoning behind it I was told “not to let my autism define me” but in a sense it does it’s my neurotype that makes me who I am when someone says a person with autism I picture it like I’m carrying a bag full of autism and I can choose to set it down, but autism is part of me I can set it down or take it off. Even if I could put away my autism I don’t know if I’d want to. Like I said it makes me who I am. I did go through a time in my life where I wanted to deprecate myself from my disabilities and tried to adopt the “I see the ability not the disability” trying to live with that attitude only make me realize that the reason I was trying to hide from my reality was because of the way society treated me not that anything was internally wrong with me.

Disability isn’t a bad word, I know in recent years lots of sensitivity training had pushed person first language but it makes many people with a disability feel unheard and if you a neurotypical or able-bodied person feels uncomfortable calling someone disabled or autistic I highly recommend doing some self-reflection as to why that is. Why do you feel calling someone disabled is bad? Why do you think being disabled is inherently bad?

To read more in-depth about identity-first language this post from the autism self advocacy network has lots of good information in it

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