Why we use the word “disabled” instead of “People with disabilities” on this site

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There has been much needed discussion about what disabled people call ourselves and what we want to be called by others. This is important because it points to how disability is seen by the disability community and by others. At its core are some different ideas about disability.

This site uses identity first language. This is used by many people to emphasize disability as an important part of a person. It is not used in this way as a way to dismiss or diminish a person. Person first language uses “people with disabilities” or “person with (insert specific disability here)” to emphasize just that: disabled people are people first. But to me, that feels obvious and people first language holds a belief that disability, being seen as negative, shouldn’t be used to describe people. To do so, it argues, is to see us as less than.

I feel that when non-disabled people use this, it is to separate the person from the disability. Often this is with good intentions, but separating a person from their disability is not workable or sustainable. Most of us have wanted to get rid of or somehow punish ourselves for our disabilities at some point in our lives. Calling ourselves disabled is one way to embrace that we can’t and we’re sick of and/or sick from trying.

This isn’t to say we hate the phrase “People with disabilities” as an organization. On the other hand, it can show that we are more than disability (which of course we are!)

But if we all fully valued disability, would we even need this phrase? Does the fact that it’s used point to the work left to do? Can you use “disabled” as a put down and see people one-dimensionally? I say yes.

But what do all of you say?

If you come to us, we will ask what you want to be called or how you refer to the disabled person you want to support. We will respect it. Both perspectives have valid points.

For more on this, here are some resources:

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