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Is “Disability” a Dirty Word?

April 01, 2015

Some people choose not to consider themselves disabled, even if they suffer from a disability. But why is that? Is “disability” really such a dirty word?

What Is a Disability?

People have a disability, according to the United States Census Bureau, in the following situation: “People 5 years old and over are considered to have a sensory, physical, mental, or self-care disability if they have one or more of the following: (a) blindness, deafness, or a severe vision or hearing impairment; (b) a substantial limitation in the ability to perform basic physical activities, such as walking, climbing stairs, reaching, lifting, or carrying; (c) difficulty learning, remembering, or concentrating; or (d) difficulty dressing, bathing, or getting around inside the home.”

A disability falls into the categories of:

+ Physical

+ Sensory

+ Mental

+ Self-care

 How Many People Suffer from Disabilities?

According to the American 2000 census, approximately 9.7% of Americans between the ages of 16-64 have a disability. This breaks down to:

+ Physical – 6.2%

+ Sensory – 2.3%

+ Mental  – 3.8%

+ Self-care – 1.8%

Some people, naturally, suffer from more than one disability.

Men suffer slightly more disabilities than women at 9.9% as compared to women’s 9.4%.

In other words, almost one-in-ten people suffer from a disability.


Judging Those with Disabilities

The word “disabled” does focus on what a person cannot do and so that can be seen as a negative; however, do we really have the right to judge people for what they cannot do physically or mentally?

Most people wouldn’t judge someone with an obvious disability such as the inability to walk due to paraplegia or the ability to see due to blindness but disabilities that prevent someone from learning, remembering, concentrating, or doing basic daily tasks such as dressing oneself or bathing often meet with negative judgements because they are often disabilities we can’t see such as the presence of an illness like lupus or chronic fatigue syndrome or the presence traumatic brain injury or a mental illness. People with these types of disabilities are often accused of “faking it” or “exaggerating” to get a “government handout.” Many have the opinion that these people are “drains on the system” and not contributing members of society.

It is no wonder, then, that people don’t want to identify as disabled or use the word as little as possible. In fact, just being able to admit to oneself – let alone those around him or her – that he or she are disabled, may be a psychological challenge to one’s self-esteem due to the negative connotations.


The Contribution of the Disabled to Society

However, people fail to realize that just because one has a disability, doesn’t mean that one isn’t a contributing member of society – with or without official employment.

First off, many people who are disabled do work. The following are the percentages of those with disabilities that are employed:

+ Physical – 33.7%

+ Sensory – 48.9%

+ Mental – 30.7%

+ Self-care – 20.8%

In other words, just because a person has a disability it doesn’t mean they can’t contribute in an economic way.

But even without specific employment, people with disabilities enrich all our lives. Take, for example:

~ Christopher Reeve – once known as Superman in movies, is now a superhero in reallife as a quadriplegic who advocates for people with disabilities and promotes research to help people walk again.

~ Ludvwig van Beethoven – one of the most famous composers of all time who continued to compose long after he went deaf.

~ Albert Einstein – perhaps one of the most brilliant persons ever to have lived, he didn’t speak until age three, had a learning disability, couldn’t do math in school, and had trouble expressing himself through the written word.

~ Lord Byron – said to be “mad, bad and dangerous to know,” was born with a club foot and became a “blockbuster” poet of his day.

These are just a few people with disabilities without whom our lives would be diminished. So before considering judging someone based on a disability they didn’t ask for and cannot control, consider that within that person may lie gifts for all of us, even if those gifts include simply a smile at the sad or a kind word for the lonely.

“This article was written by award-winning mental health writer and speaker, Natasha Tracy.”

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