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Is It Bad To Be Labeled Disabled?

July 17, 2014

label, disability, disabled, person first language, talking with people who have disabilities, addressing disabilities, disability etiquette, disability tax credits, national benefit authorityDisability is a complex term. All too often, the word disabled is used to label people who have physical and mental impairments. Even when this label is intended to benefit them (like when they learn they are eligible for disability tax credits) it can still seem limiting. This is why some people prefer terms like “DisAbility” or “differently abled.”

Beyond its terminology, disability is a complex concept too. Part of the complexity surrounding this word is its evolving nature. Years ago, a person was only considered disabled if he or she had a physical impairment that confined him to a wheelchair or required her to use a walking stick. A lot has changed since then; today, the disability title is rightfully given to people who face invisible conditions, mental health challenges, and learning obstacles. In fact, for the first time European courts are considering labeling extreme obesity as a disability.

What Do People With Disabilities Think Of The Term, “Disabled”?

Over the years, Disability Living has received some opinions about why people dislike the term disability. Before sharing what we’ve heard, it is important that we ask your opinion on the matter:

What is your opinion on labeling people as “disabled”? How does it make you feel when people label you with this title?

It is clear that some people who face obstacles when it comes to mobility, mental/emotional processing, learning, chronic pain, obesity and more do not mind the term “disability” while others do. However, nobody likes the word when it is used in a derogatory way. Most of the time, the term is not meant to hinder the reputation of a person or put him down; it is actually intended to help her live a high quality life.

However, as the concept of disability has evolved so has appropriate language addressing disability.

How to Best Address Disability

Here are some quick tips to help you speak intelligibly about disability.

  • Remove handicap, cripple, deaf, dumb, retard, bound to a wheelchair, crazy, insane, psychotic and similar words from your vocabulary. These terms are inappropriate and insensitive.
  • When speaking about disability, use “person first” language. For instance, say, “School for children with disabilities,” rather than, “School for disabled children.”
  • Here are additional examples of person first language:
    • Use “Kathleen’s daughter Karen uses a wheelchair,” not, “Kathleen’s wheelchair bound daughter, Karen.”
    • Use “Steve developed a mobility related disability and now has a handicapped placard,” not, “Steve became cripple so he was given a handicap placard.”
  • While it is inappropriate to refer to someone as having a handicap, it is still okay to refer to parking placards and spaces as “handicapped.”

Disability: Restrictive or Liberating?

A possible reason why some people dislike the term disability is because they feel it restricts who they are and what they are able to accomplish. For instance, to a person who uses a wheelchair, the wheelchair is not restrictive but liberating. Without it, he or she would not be able to embrace the outside world.

Similarly, the term disability can be liberating when it is used in the right context. Someone who has a mental or physical impairment and is unable to work may be delighted to learn government considers him or her “disabled.” With this title, he or she might become eligible for the disability tax credit and other benefits.

Addressing the term disability is sensitive subject matter, but it deserves a fair conversation. What do you think of the term “disability”? How does it make you feel when people call you “disabled”? Is there a better term we should use?

The National Benefit Authority always strives to promote people with disabilities. If you dislike this article or find it to be inaccurate, please share why in the comment section of this post.


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