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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.


35 Comments. Leave new

Andrew Tankus
July 18, 2014 10:51 pm

I too used to describe myself as having a disability and found that peoples attitudes quikly changed when they heard this.
I have no longer describe myself this way, and just say that I have some limitations. This seems to get a better responce from people. Especially those who dot not have a disability because everyone has certain limitations to what they are capable of doing.

For example..walking with a cane ..physically challenged…in a wheel chair..physically imobilized..laying in bed. Physically bedridden. Loss of a arm partially restricted upper limb. Loss of two arm dual upper amputee, loss of one one leg semi stride amputee, loss of two legs dual stride amputee.loss of site..totally vision deficient. Loss of one eye partially vision deficient…thank you.

I am and have been disabled for about 16 years and have no problem with being called disabled as it is just somebodies opinion and they probably don’t understand what I am going through. It has changed my life dramatically as I was unable to play games and do other things with my children. ex camping, holidays amongst many other things. I now receive a disability pension from the government but it is taken directly off the top of the money I receive from my disability provider from work. I guess it will be beneficial once I am no longer covered by my workplace, but to me it was a bit of a surprise to have that happen, like as if they don’t want you to have a decent income. I am still fighting with the Disability Tax Credit people as they seem to be more confused than I am. Every time I contact them I receive a different reply. I have been told to call them back in 2 weeks about 10 times now and each time I do call they have different information about my claim. I am very frustrated with these people as I am treated like a number on their screen and don’t really receive any respect from them at all. Something needs to change in this country and it all starts with government and attitude.

Disability has been positive word all around and benefits come from government. Disability is a good word and I found photo on Pinterest of fans holding up person in wheelchair on their shoulders so he could see the band up close. Mental illness seems to more of negative word and label and may be exclude from some benefits of housing issues and credits, mental illness seems to be more of a negative stereotype label along with addictions. Disability seems to be the more positive word all around.

andrea andrews
July 19, 2014 12:07 am

I don’t even think about my disability when describing myself. I say that I am smart, funny, attractive and talented. But I AM also disabled and changing the words do not change the facts. We need to stop being so hyper-sensitive. What ever happened to “sticks and stones may brake my bones but names will never hurt me?” If your sense of self is so weak that you allow others to define who you are negatively just by using words then maybe you really are retarded.

Michael G. McKay
July 19, 2014 12:08 am

The only time I find it difficult being labeled as a person with a disability, is when society has it in their minds that I can only do this or that or something else but because of the disability I have I can only do the stereo typical jobs or tasks.

As a blind person, I find I can do a lot more if given the opportunity show my my perspective employers but I am able to accomplish, provided however, that I am allowed the opportunity to show them what I am able to do.

Blindness to me does not need to be a barrier, whether in the workplace, or in every day life.

If a person with a disability is given the opportunity to prove his ability, and not given late and excuses by those who are supposed to be advocating on his or her behalf, then this life for people with disabilities would be much better.

Marlene Hermann
July 19, 2014 12:10 am

Diagnose/s are required by our provincial & federal governments so the individual gains access to all that is due them.
Society in general are very racist against person/s born with a disability and ones that have aquired brain injury. My son whom is Aspergers, I have found in the schools they teach the diability not the individual child. Now as an adult over coming employers with narrow vision penalizes the man deaming them as not trainable or employable. There are ones that use them as token/s to prove they are for equality for all….they are the worst offenders.
As for myself, I aquired a brain injury in which now I am labeled, but do to my age I get no rehabilitation so I may gain employment again. My past credentials were an accountant, marketing associate for a financial advisor, consultanti etc. So Now I am treated unfairly because of my age…..another form of racist against my rights.

Government & Society need to be revamed that we are all person/s that are intelligent & have feelings.

Margaret Radford
July 19, 2014 12:27 am

Perhaps the term limited ability might be more acceptable.

Margaret Radford
July 19, 2014 12:29 am

another term that might be more acceptable is limited mobility.

July 19, 2014 12:29 am

for me is a doesn’t mater term ”disable’’ or ‘’disability”
because I am disable but if some body say with contempt
that’s different story.
r. fryga

Darrell M. Farrow/ Cora/ Mother
July 19, 2014 12:33 am

Every time that you need anything other than a Wheel chair repair
or a new chair you have to beg for help .
This last year 2013/2014 we have had to pay to get a better Van as our
1997 was done, the new 2012 cost us 25000.00 over 60 months.
also two trips to Kitchener with both vans to have the lift out of old to new cost $2500.00 .
Jan. 2013 new lift for at home $1800.00 Also in Feb. this year new battery for this new lift$300.00
This just goes on & on Than Just had to repair Deck on the house & Ramp no bill yet for this.
We were going to try to get HLEP from Grey County but all the family income had to be under $4000.00 /yr. LOL/ House Worth no more than$200000.00.
So where do we Stop Thanks Cora Farrow ### we are getting
Tapped out.

Carolyn Hamelin
July 19, 2014 12:46 am

No I do not mind the word at all, I have both the pyhical and the mental disabilities. I only got a couple years tax credit, it quite when I reached 65 yrs, that I do not feel is right, as a senior that extra bit really helped me, thanx for sharing and listening.

we SHOULDN’T be labeled AT ALL . Call us by our names. We are people not items , objects or properties. It isn’t who we are so do not address us in any other way other than our first name or nick name.

Jeremy Moray
July 19, 2014 4:53 am

For god’s sake stop trying to be polically correct.
Of course there is nothing wrong with being disabled; I am disabled and that is fine.
I suggest you spend your time usefully trying to protect the environment.

People with disabilities can live with as a result of few reasons:
– natural disability – born with disability/disabilities
– “acquired” – usually by accident; is not the case for obesity where the environment is creating conditions for falling from a good healthy condition of living in poor one.
Those with natural disabilities can’t feel and understand how is to be what we call normal individual; they can feel some embarassment due to the lack of understanding.
I believe they can call the “normal” folks as being biologically “gifted”.
However, the life is not only biology and should not be an issue to use the word “disabled” because is a lack of a common ability, is a fact that gives to the majority the information to pay more attention and help such people in any moment they cannot deal with “modern” and community as[ects.
Regarding the ones living with “acquired” disability. this word (“dosabled”) can bring discomfort – despite is a reality – but being aware of it, the “normal” people are becoming really sensitive due to the compassion for somebody who has lost something very important, for the rest of their life.
You can’t rely on the articles talking about bionic stuff and new science discoveries – these can be helpful for actions, to simulate perceptions but the feeling is never revived, is just a simulation.
Thhose with suc disabilities will never be the same they knew they were before – and this is the difference between them and those naturally disabled.
“Disabled” is not a tag, is a sign to pay attention and support them with the bst of you.
Is a sign how to “drive” in the community with respect, … and why not?, with love.
Sure bad things can happen to me, to us with no prior warning but we should not live in fear, thinking that every day can bring catastropic events – they happen either we like or not, we’re scared or not.
If some people living with or without disabilities do not like this public warning (the word “disabled”), maybe they do not want anymore to have the help and priorities given and enforced by law by the public decision (as a majority!, is a democratic way to have the country ruled…).

I dont really care what people say .I care more as to what they DO>>>This includes politicians builders and the guy next door. Thanks. A Disabled person. Mobility challenged.

Roy Strachan
July 19, 2014 3:42 pm

This whole political correctness thing is a pile of crap. People of all abilities need to relax and accept themselves for what they are and what they are capable of. The best definition I have seen for political correctness is:

Political correctness is a doctrine, fostered by a delusional, illogical minority and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end.

Relax, play the hand you’re dealt and enjoy the ride,

Wanda Edgington
July 19, 2014 4:29 pm

I myself don’t mind being called disabled. It depends on how they use the word. I have a disability in walking and that is a fact. I can’t walk very far (1/2 a sm. block), to do so I would need a walker on wheels. If I do walk, I need to make sure I have enough endurance to get where I want to go or get back to where I started.

I’d rather simply be considered as more challenged in different areas than be told that I’m disabled. The term makes one feel like they are less than someone else who has no disability.

Frank DeBresser
July 19, 2014 6:15 pm

A better term would be “CRIPPLED” or “PHYSICALLY CHALLENGED”

I have a disability-not visual-i have a disability parking tag-do you know how many talk to me about parking in the disability parking spots? The term disabled does not mean “CANNOT” . However I also work for an employer who choses to ignore employees with disabilities-thus no parking spots for….so until we have clear guidelines that everyone follows as well as a definite definition we will still be scrutinized.
Also this website for disability benefits-you too discriminate-those who are working do not qualify???

Only one word fits Disability and that is Disable to work and have a paying career! We fought tooth and nail to prove how sick i was at the time, but now years later i feel like i don’t even belong to this world! I can only speak for myself but i feel like my life turned into something totally different….. I can say it saddens me, it depresses me, and i feel iike i can’t do anything about it…..

Laura Duncan
July 19, 2014 9:59 pm

It is difficult to know where you would have us place our answers to the questions presented. The active links go off to other web pages that are interesting but not designed to receive any reflections we may have on the questions! Anyway, maybe this will suffice. I do not like being called disabled, because it suggests that I am not able to look after myself or my affairs. I am not a burden but I am challenged! I can walk the mile, but it may take me half the day.

I have difficulty with stairs and walking distances. The freedom that I am given by having accessible parking (versus disability parking) enables me the freedom to enjoy life to my full potential. The obligation my employer has to provide me with access to my workplace and to consider my limitations when ensuring the printer / photocopier or bathrooms are not too far from my desk, gives me the opportunity to be equal to others – since my disability is not visible, just limiting. I am happy that the city of Toronto allows free public parking as long as I have a pass – and am on the correct side of the road….I do not flaunt my rights – but do ensure that other people are aware that I may need to voice them, to ensure I receive consideration for my limitations. Usually people are very understanding, and those who are not will be educated in the most respectful way by me. My company is moving to a new location with two levels – and the stairs are scary – with the letter from my specialist, they will build me a lift/elevator – so that I can safely get to my workplace on the second floor, instead of being isolated from my department by being “accommodated” on the lower level away from my team – and since my company prided itself to us as accessible in a seminar we all participated in, I made sure to push that they would put their money where their mouth is….also when the disability button to open the door was on the wrong side (door forced people to move back several steps) – I made sure to mention it, since it takes that awareness to know where barriers limit access – and that is why we need to speak up and make suggestions…. There is nothing wrong with my limitations – they are what they are – and I will not let them limit my life / my work / my vacation….It is an absolutely normal thing – and that is what people need to understand.


Thanks for your feedback, Laura. I’ll try to be clearer in the future. Your response is invaluable.

Brendan kennedy
July 21, 2014 3:13 pm

All my life I was made fun of and left to fail , in school no one helped me with my disabilities I was met with so much abuse, violence, and sadness . As a PTSD sufferer it Made things so much worse. I live with things I wish I had never had to see things from my teens I just can’t un see. So long story short I am treated like a number an not a person my feelings are always shot down as the so called professionals say oh get over it Brendan! I’ve had a machete taken to my throat, a gun in my face, an set on fire in my sleep just cuz they thought it was fun, teachers that just stood by an didn’t care an this was catholic school I went to.

Thanks for your response, Deb. I can understand your frustration. However, disability tax credits are different from many government benefit programs; they are available to people with disabilities who work. Check out this post Disabled and Able to Work. It may answer some questions you have. As always, feel free to reach out to National Benefit Authority by calling 1888-389-0080.

Teresa Guardia
July 21, 2014 3:22 pm

I like it that my boyfriend reminds me when I use the term disabled or disability, he corrects me by saying I have extra challenges.

Maureen Gabert
July 22, 2014 5:47 am

I really do not like the term “disabled” To me this suggests that i am not able, when in fact I am able. I may not be as able as others but I am still able. I function to the best of my “ability”

John Stevens
July 22, 2014 2:44 pm

I have been on LTD for the last17 years.I was diagnosed with Panic and Anxiety disorder plus deppresion and Chronic Migrane Headaches.I have problems with such things as standing in lines at the Bank or Grocery Stores.I will leave and come back later or the next day.Even when i was still driving i felt people were looking at me.I have thought of taking an online computer course to learn enough to work in a back room where i wouldent be dealing with people but doing repairs.Im not even sure if i would qualify for this as i have an old desktop.Recently i saw a Quad helicopter controlled by remote with a camera which is new and would make a great business,but again this leads to money which i dont have but im sure where this is new and i have a good freind who would help it could be a business which has a high chance of sucess.Kindest Regards.John Stevens

It really does not matter what people say or what the call you, Fact is Fact I have a huge arthritic disability and cannot do anything about it. So ignore the ignorant and live on.

Sheryl A Wilson
July 25, 2014 4:37 pm

I’m in British Columbia. A legal advisor told me that in Canada “ones disability the doctor puts on paper” can never be taken away from them, however, if one is labelled or reported wrongly to the Ministry who takes care of disability within the Province, then one can loose their “disability”. It is amazing how disrespectful the employees at these government offices are and the lies that they tell within legal takings on and I know because I’ve experienced it and am awaiting edict on my life from them. They take no care at all in what they’ve done to the disabled persons financials or mental / physical health. I personally do prefer to us the word spelled “disAbled” for I strongly feel that when the mind sees the word spelled that way, it caused that mind to view it as someone who has some abilities, now let’s find out what they are. My other comments may not be appropriate given that this area is just talking about the word. The word does place us into a certain bracket within society. For persons like myself who have “invisible disabilities” it makes it really rough for even at the Ministry government office taking care of disability they look at us suspiciously; only what our doctor has put on paper is our saving grace. Thank you.

Whether you prefer ‘Disabled’, ‘Challenged’, or some other term, this doesn’t specify physical vs mental vs psychological, and likely is treated as if all apply to each case. Should more specific descriptions apply ??

im Disabled and for 1 it pays very little,for 2 its hard understanding that some ppl really .dont know. for3 I live with it and live below poverty . I seat back and watch and I see but I cant do , think thats fare just do it. what more I can I say.

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