Sinead Burke once said, “ Disability is not a dirty word. We are so used to thinking of disability as something that makes us less, that we avoid it and have come up with synonyms. Special needs, differently abled, handicapped, superheroes.” As a kid, I didn’t think anything of when I heard these terms, I was used to them, I may not have liked them, but I was used to them. As a disabled adult who has seen how hard it is to get some things done when you have a disability, I just have to ask why? Why did society come up with these phrases and why is it still happening in 2022? I am a woman with a disability. I am proud of the impact my disability has had on who I am as a person and I am proud to be a member of the disabled community and will be celebrating every moment of this disability pride month.
I’m Proud To Be A Part Of The Disabled Community, But There Is More To Be Done
My disability has impacted my life in ways I never thought possible. Living with a disability has without a doubt given me a unique perspective, forcing me to look at things in a new way. It has challenged me and emboldened me to say the least, but most importantly, my disability has given me so many moments of laughter with family and friends, experiences that I’ll look back on for the rest of my life, some of them once in a lifetime. These moments bring nothing, but smiles and laughs and I’m beyond grateful for them.
There is the other side, the one filled with struggle and frustration: where the negative connotation of disability was born, The one that was and to some degree still is depicted when you discuss disability in society, it is hidden away, shushed, and rarely discussed.
Are there difficult days living with a disability? Absolutely!
But a good portion of that struggle and frustration comes from living in a world not designed for us. Frustration over lack of accessibility, Sadness over not being able to attend events because it’s not accessible. Accessibility is a big problem that II and other people with disabilities have to deal with, but it is far from the only one.
Accessibility, how we are portrayed in the film and television industry, lack of businesses marketing their products and services to this market and lack of workplace opportunities are just a few of the issues we have to deal with, but they are key pieces in how the world thinks and reacts to disability and the people who live with them.
I’m in my 20’s, I didn’t have role models, dolls, people who looked like me growing up. I didn’t know disability pride month was a concept until a few years ago. Today I’m happy to say that people with disabilities have that, particularly girls growing up now can say they want to get some adaptive fashion pieces from Tommy Hilfiger or something from one of the few adaptive fashion brands. They can say they want to be on Broadway like Ali Stroker, or play with a Barbie that looks like them, or even work in a particular field thanks to a particular person with a disability that they look up to. This is great, this is amazing, but It’s Not Enough.
Tommy Hilfiger, Barbie, Zappos, and a few others finally started to pay attention to this market in the last decade, amazing, but being seen as consumers is not enough. Did you know that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities in 2021 was 10.1% and the jobless rate for those with disabilities was twice as high as those without disabilities? The world may have started to pay attention to the world full of people with disabilities as consumers, now it is time to take it a step further and consider them as colleagues.
Being disabled isn’t something to be pitied, hidden, or looked down upon, it is something to have open discussions around and celebrate for the unique perspectives people who live with them can bring to table. Unfortunately for me and others in my community, that is just not the case. People with disabilities want to work, have full-time jobs and careers and while some do accomplish this, there are many who struggle to get their foot in the door simply because they have a disability, experiences living with a disability has value, but sadly too few people recognize that fact.
In order for this to change those of us in the disability community have to keep speaking up and though we may have to exert so much energy to get our foot in the door, it blazes a trail for those behind us. I hope that all of the companies that have good employees who are disabled working for them, reconsider how they look at that word because the voice, the demand for change, can’t just come from the community, it should be aligned with a message from allies, people in businesses in multiple industries who can see the value of these unique individuals, ones who are willing to listen and learn.
Sinead Burke said “Disability is not a bad word.” She is right. Disability is amazing and challenging and everything in between. I am proud to be a disabled woman. As adults, when we’re around toddlers or elementary school aged children we tend to watch our language, not wanting to teach them words that only adults should say, but when did disability get added to this forbidden list and how did we get to the point that we’ve created a plethora of terms that mean this one thing, disability? Furthermore, what message are we sending the people who are a part of this community of age, but especially those who fall within that impressionable range when we won’t even properly acknowledge something that is such a part of them?
I am proud to be a part of the wonderful disabled community and future generations should be taught to be as well. Want to learn some startling facts about the disabled community and the labor market? Check out this article.
I hope you found this post informative and it at the very least piqued your curiosity and some of the challenges people with disabilities face and how you can be an ally and or advocate. What are your thoughts on using alternatives to say the word disabled? Let me know with a comment below.