When you read the title of this blog post, what was your first thought? I’m willing to guess you either thought I use a wheelchair or have some form of autism. The answer is… It’s neither.
So what’s my disability? I am red-green colour deficient.
What does that mean? It means that I have trouble discerning red and green hues. Not colour-blind, I just mix up my blues, purples, greens and browns.
I know, with an opening line like the one I led with you were expecting some severe limitations that I have triumphantly overcome like one of those stories the internet loves so much. But that’s not the purpose of this. The purpose of this is to recognize that yourself or many people that you know face some form of barrier.
In other words, ‘disability’ doesn’t need to be such a traumatizing word.
The best place to start is to ask why we think of the extremes when we hear the word disability. Aimee Mullins, a record breaker at the Paralympic Games has a phenomenal approach I’d like to share with you.
Google ‘disability definition.’ Better yet, I’ll save you the time. Google comes up with: A physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses or activities. “Condition” has a bit of a harsh feeling to it but that one can slide. The definition wouldn’t win any awards at a poetry contest but it gets the point across.
Now look at the synonyms: handicap, disablement, incapacity, impairment, infirmity, defect, abnormality, condition, disorder, and affliction.
Language is a very powerful tool. Grouping the word disability into such emotionally devastating words like abnormality, defect or affliction seriously hurts our collective view on what we should associate the word disability with.
So your thought may be: “Yeah, but those are just words.”
My response is: That’s exactly the reason why our minds are drawn to such negative extremes; it is a powerfully associated word.
Hearing the words ‘I have a disability’ immediately swirls these negative synonyms and unfortunately characterizes people by what limits that person; not on the person them self.
So let’s continue this research and see what’s next in the definition.
“Used in a phrase, it’s: He had to quit his job and go on disability.”
That of all the examples is the one that is used in the definition and cements my point. Now we have immediate thoughts of hurt at work, permanently disabled, loss of income, debt; the negativity spirals.
The phrase was not, he overcame the barriers of his disability to become Prime Minister. Or even: He would have had to go on disability but his sensitive employer made accommodations for mobility assistive devices. The word disability does not have to be so negative.
Here is another thought exercise. What is a long-term disability? Let’s use the government of Canada eligibility for the Registered Disability Savings Program as our guidelines.
- Must have a sever impairment in physical or mental functions
- The impairments must be prolonged, meaning, it must have lasted or is expected to last, for a continuous period of at least 12 months
- Must be restricted at least 90% of the time.
So what can you think of that fits into that criteria?
How about a broken foot that is taking longer than a year to heal completely? In our little exercise, that is a disability. So too would some severities of depression, OCD and anxiety conditions. What about my colorblindness? It is the reason I can’t match ties to dress shirts and can’t become a commercial pilot. I still consider it a disability, just not severe.
With my fashion matching blunders in mind, let’s broaden the scope a little. Do you or someone you know wear glasses? That is a disability that is being compensated for; we as a society have just become accustomed to seeing people wear glasses. How about when you get eye drops at the optometrist office and have blurry vision for a couple hours? Again, that is a disability; it is temporary but it is still a disability.
What I am asking you to do is think. Think about the word disability and recognize that many people face little barriers in their everyday life. The word disability itself does not need to be such an extreme, negatively associated word.
A person with a disability is a person first.