Disability

What You Really Mean When You Say “All Abilities”

These are things that I see while reading around the internet –

"Playgrounds can often be an overwhelming and stressful place for kids with special needs, so Donna opened a sensory gym that caters to children of all abilities!"

"The determination to see past what you can’t do and focus on each individual’s capacity to achieve combined with visionaries who are passionate to share those possibilities with people of all abilities.."

"Inclusion matters: access and empowerment of people of all abilities..."

At first glance, “all abilities” seems to so inclusive.

It’s gathering everyone up and not discriminating by what they can and can’t do.

But over time it’s glaringly apparent that the user is really just talking about people with disabilities.

“People of all abilities” is never used when disability is not present.

The fact that “people of all abilities” is said at all is calling attention to the ability, and focus on inclusion with “all abilities” carries an undertone of inability (else you wouldn’t need to push so much for the “all” in the ability, right?!).

Who Do You Use “All Abilities” With?

“People of all abilities” is not used with geniuses, nor is it used with the typical (able-bodied) population, nope, it’s only used with regard to disability, when there is someone with a disability in the mix.

So, if it’s only used when talking about people with disabilities, can we just say “disability” please?

I promise, saying “disability” straight up is infinitely preferable to finding ways to work around it like “all abilities.”

What do people really mean when they say, \
Meriah
Meriah Nichols is a career counselor, teacher and blogger. Single mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one gifted 2E), she is also a Trekkie who likes her coffee hot and black.
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5 Comments

  1. Concerned Citizen Reply

    It’s because the fact that everyone is so concerned about everyone’s feelings we’re at a loss on how to address the disability public. How about we just don’t address them at all in order to not risk ruffling someones feathers? There will always be someone that takes offence no matter which way you twist it. As a person with a hidden disability I must say you don’t speak for all of us.

    • 1) I never said I speak for everyone with a disability 2) It’s pretty simple: people can just say, “disability” 3) “We’re at a loss on how to address the disability public” – who is “we”?

  2. I’m autistic and I say “I’m here for autistic people of all abilities” because some autistic people live independently and others can’t be alone because their SIB is so violent they need help to control it. There are autistic people who use wheelchairs, who are blind, d/Deaf, have CP, have epilepsy, etc.. Some autistic people aren’t visibly disabled at all and others walk around with raptor hands (hello, that’s me :P) and wear stim jewelry or use AAC.

    There may be an autistic kid who can’t tie their shoes, but who know more about Power Rangers than anyone you know. Perhaps there’s an autistic person who lives independently and knows all the bus routes because they generate maps in their mind. Maybe the nonverbal autistic person nobody pays attention to has every note of Mozart’s musical career memorized back to front and top to bottom, but nobody knows because nobody asks.

    I will not go somewhere and say “I’m here for low functioning autistic people as much as high functioning autistic people!” because I hate functioning labels.

    I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I guess I’m pointing out that “all abilities” can mean so many things. What about gymnasts of all abilities? Gymnasts who can do full routines along with beginners who can only do cartwheels? Ice skaters of all abilities? The ones who can only twirl once vs Olympic gold medalists? Or how about people in science? A first grader vs Stephen Hawking? Stephen is going to know way more than a 6 year old, but an autistic 6 year old will probably ask more interesting questions if science is their interest. And Stephen Hawking didn’t need to use his hands and feet to do his science because his brain was where the magic happened! 🙂

  3. Kaay Miller Reply

    As mother of straight-A, Summa Cum Laude Mechanical Engineering (nuclear option) graduate with 3 years’ job experience, I find labels useful to get through to people that her social anxiety and deficiencies don’t mean that she’s stupid.

    She can make professional presentations at national conferences, but she can’t make small talk afterwards. Her seizure disorder gives her reduced stamina, but she recently got a job requiring field engineering, and is building up to pre-seizure strength. (The Asperger’s has been lifelong; the seizures are a recent development.)

    How should I reconcile my anti-label feelings with the convenience of explaination when I act as her advocate? Does one ‘justify’ the other? Should I discipline myself to only use non-label terms with non-‘woke’ members of society, and explain as necessary?

    • I’d follow her lead, personally. Just ask her how she prefers to be called, if/when you need to identify her disability!

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