Three Reasons Why “Disability” and “Disabled” Are Not Bad Words

By September 21, 2021 September 27th, 2021 Article

Say it with me dis-a-bi-li-ty. Ok now this one…dis-abl-ed. Now breathe in and breathe out. You’re still alive and nothing bad has happened. Although saying those words might make you feel uncomfortable or you feel like you’re putting “bad mojo” into the atmosphere, they are not bad words.

But let me be honest with you. As a mom to twins with disabilities, I was not comfortable using “the D word” until they were about 9 years old. I would say things like “Special Needs”, “Special Abilities”, and “Medically Complex”. I danced around the word “disability” because personally I wasn’t comfortable “labeling” my children. But after some much needed reflection, I realized I was not labeling them, I was actually doing them and our situation a disservice. Here are 3 reasons why.

1. A Disability Is Part Of A Person’s Trait

You may have heard parents use terms such as “differently abled”, “special needs”, or “special ability”, but what does that really mean?

Now before I proceed, hear me out. There is nothing wrong with those words when used in conjunction with disability. For example, I have said “my son has a special ability because of his disability of autism”, but if I were to say, “my son has a specialty ability”…. ok? Is he a superhero? No! Or “my son is differently abled”…no! He is not different from any other kid. Because if that was the case, why not label every child different based on a trait of theirs. That wouldn’t make any sense! Here’s what I mean.

If a group of parents were asked to describe their child, a response of “My child is different because he has blonde hair” or “My child is different because she’s left handed” or “My child is different because he has green eyes” would sound silly right? Exactly! Instead the parents will more than likely say, “My child has blonde hair”. “My child is left handed.” “My child has green eyes”. That puts some normalcy to the reality of a trait. The same applies to disabled. It’s just part of who your child is. There’s nothing wrong with it.

So start saying, “my child has a disability”. Don’t add any but’s, for example, “my child has a disability but is the sweetest girl you’ll ever meet”. If you’re going to do that, change the “but” to “and”, because you’re subconsciously trying to justify why your child is still great. There’s no need to do that. THE DISABILITY IS PART OF WHO THEY ARE! No additional justification is needed to explain why they’re still great.

2. Supporters Will Feel Like They’re Walking On Eggshells

If you have someone who wants to be part of your support system, you want them to be comfortable, right? You don’t want them to be hesitant to have a conversation with you or advocate on your behalf with fear they will use the wrong word, right? This is why it’s important to be ok with the word “disability” or “disabled”.

It’s already hard enough living in a world as a caregiver where you feel isolated because not many understand. But don’t make it harder on yourself. A lot of times people are hesitant to talk to you because they are afraid of saying the wrong thing. If you, as the parent, use the word “disability”, this lets supporters know it is ok to use that word, too. And you know what will happen? The word will become second nature to them. They won’t have to dance around a conversation. If supporters hear one family saying “challenged”, another family saying “medically complex”, and another family saying “special needs”, your best bet is they either won’t say anything to you because they won’t know what to say, or they will try to talk to you but the conversation will be awkward.

Make it easy for people to talk to you and use the common words that society is familiar with.

3. Keep It Simple…

“Neuro-Divergent”, “Neuro-Diverse”, “Neuro-Typical” ….Huh?? There’s a time and place to use all those “fancy” descriptive words, but when you’re having a regular conversation outside of a doctor’s office, hearing those terms can honestly be a bit intimidating.

Heck, even I scrunch my face and raise my eyebrow when I hear those words and my children fall under those categories. If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to keep things simple. It’s already hard enough feeling like you’re out of place in this world, so don’t make it harder on yourself. Trust me, most people don’t ask questions, so if you start explaining your child’s health and lead with, “My daughter is neuro-diverse, but we do the best we can”, I can guarantee, you’ve lost them.

Try to keep it simple and just use the word “disability” or “disabled”. Make it easy for you; otherwise you’ll continue to repeat the same phrase, “No One Gets It” over and over and over again. Don’t do yourself that disservice.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Share below!