It drives me crazy when people say stuff like, “people of all abilities,” because they are so clearly only talking about people with disabilities.
You never, every (but never!) say that kind of stuff when you are in a room full of rocket scientists, or silicon nerds.
You only say it when you’re talking about people with disabilities, and you think that saying “all abilities” sounds nicer or something than just saying “disability”.
Phrases like that are used because somehow, somewhere along the way, people forgot to stop and compute the tabs.
People forgot to look around and actually count and notice everyone who has a disability around them.
We are SO MANY, in our enormous disability community.
We are rich and famous, we are poor and not. We’re geniuses, we are stupid, we are average, we run the gamut.
We are strong, we are weak, we are heroic, we are cowards. We are everything in between.
We are beautiful, we are ugly, we are extraordinary, we are ordinary.
We are bright, we are brilliant, we are average, we are dull; we sparkle.
We are everything. We are the spectrum of the human experience.
Disability Does Not Mean Inability
The word “disability” is, in of itself, flawed.
You’re never going to hear me say that I like the word, “disability”, because I don’t.
I think it’s a problematic word that is contentious and cranky and rubs a lot of people the wrong way.
The best word or description that I’ve ever heard for the experience that “disability” is typically used to describe is “alter-abled.” I like that because I feel like it’s though provoking, and I also feel like it’s true on so many levels.
But, like it or not, the word “disability” is what is standard in this here and now.
It’s what is used in access forms, in government legal regulations, the law.
And “disability” simply describes the platform upon which some people experience their lives.
“Disability” is a particular way of being, moving, thinking, hearing, seeing, emoting, processing, expressing, living. The particular way that a person experiences disability defines their life in the sense that it’s the platform upon which they filter and see their world; but it does not define them by way of saying that they can’t be or do whatever they want.
In other words, being deaf absolutely defines my life because I literally can’t hear most conversations well enough to join in. I arrange my home, spaces, places, care of my children, my work, my learning and all aspects of my life around this fact.
But being deaf does not limit me: I can be or do anything!
My daughter has Down syndrome: that third copy of the 21st chromosome defines her life in the sense that she moves, talks, thinks and expresses in particular ways that are typical with this syndrome. She needs to organize her life, learning and future work around this fact.
But having Down syndrome will not limit her: she can be or do anything!
Disability Limitations Don’t Need to Exist
You know that super-popular meme about “the only disability in life is a bad attitude”?
Well, the reality is more like, “the only disability in life is a lack of access.”
The only disability in life is really about navigating a world that isn’t made for disability, but here’s the thing: since more than two thirds of the planet has a disability in some way, shape or form, and since the last third is likely to acquire one in the course of their life, doesn’t it just make sense to make the world as accessible across all disability spectrums as possible?
Opinion PiecesPosts that I've written about disability access, inclusion or things said
Meriah Nichols is a career counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one gifted 2E). Deaf, with C-PTSD and TBI, she’s also a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.