Some time ago, I read the cover of a book about autism. The author wrote, that she wouldn’t use the word “disability” because she didn’t like the word. She thinks, it’s too negative. When I read that, I knew immediately that I wanted to write a blog post about being disabled. I think, when you’re publicly talking about disabilities you have some kind of responsibility. So, if you think, the word “disability” is seen as something negative, I feel like you should do something about it.
“Disabled” in different languages
The first version of this blog post was in German, because the book cover, where the author wrote, that she didn’t like the word “disability”, was in German, too. So, when I considered translating my blog post to English, I started wondering what my opinion towards the word “disabled” actually is. After all, it’s much more extreme than the German word for disabled, which you could translate as “hindered” (in German: behindert). You could probably say, that the German word only means that someone has challenges within certain situations, whereas the English word suggests, that disabled people are unable to do anything. But personally, I actually don’t have any problem with the word “disability”.
The word “disability”
I am well aware of the fact that “dis-abled” doesn’t sound very positive. And there are lots of people who try to change the view on disabilities and people with disabilities by wanting to change the word itself. Some people want to be called “differently abled”, for example. But that doesn’t change anything in my perspective. When I hear the word “disability”, I don’t ever think about what the two parts of the word (“dis” and “ability”) actually mean together. Instead I think of everything I experienced and learned as a child and during my whole life, that had to do with disabilities. I believe that words can’t ever have an objective meaning.
You grow up and learn what words mean. But they can still mean different things to different people. So, there are probably people who think that disabled people can’t do anything independently. But you can’t change their perspective by changing the word. Let’s say, we don’t use the word “disabled” anymore, but “differently abled” instead. Don’t you think, people will still have the same view on disabilities?! In my opinion you should rather work on changing the negative views on disabilities instead of changing the word.
What “disabled” doesn’t mean
When I first got diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, me, my family and my friends didn’t really know much about autism at all. We found out that autism wasn’t an illness but rather a disability. To be honest, I was hesitant calling myself disabled. And some of my family still doesn’t feel like the word “disability” fits to me. I think, a lot of people have the opinion, that I can’t be disabled, because I study, live independently, have a boyfriend, am economically stable and so on. But how can those things exclude each other? It seems like some people still believe that disabled people can’t have a good, stable or well-functioning life.
What “disabled” means
Having a disability actually only means, that you have a hard time with certain things and that you might need some adjustments. For example, blind people can’t see, but they can still find their way around, if they use a cane or get help from a guide dog. Amputees might need prosthetics and people who can’t use their legs, can mostly get around in a wheelchair. For me, my disability means, that I need more breaks and that I can’t be together with a lot of people for too long. When I listen to my own needs and adjust things, I can have a pretty “normal” life.
“Being disabled” or “having a disability”?
Talking about disabilities and autism you can’t really avoid the discussion: Do you say, that you “are” autistic/disabled, or do you “have” autism/a disability? I’ve heard a lot of times that most autistic people prefer saying that they “are” autistic. But most people with other disabilities prefer saying that they “have” a disability. They probably want to make sure that they are seen as a person first instead of having people see their disability first. Personally, I prefer saying that I “am” autistic/disabled. When I told my dad about it, he said: “Remember that you’re also Nici” But the thing is: I don’t think one thing excludes the other. I see my autism as a part of my character and myself just as any other personality traits. Autism is a part of me, and I can’t put it away. But it’s just one part of many.