Before leaving my previous job, I was chair of a disability and mental health network named Enabled at Tesco where I was able to pursue a mission of advocacy and inclusion alongside my day job. I’m immensely proud of the work I was able to do and I miss the role greatly.
My advocacy journey took me to all over the place, to London, Newcastle and Edinburgh. I went to a fair few conferences hosted by people with disabilities and companies looking to further their agenda of supporting colleagues with disabilities.
I had the opportunity to meet many wonderful and interesting people, those with various disabilities and those whose lives had been touched by disability.
One particularly memorable conference saw me whisked away to Edinburgh for some canapes, a networking session and a panel event.
I witnessed a great talk by Dr Caroline Casey who enraptured the crowd with her humourous and inspiring stories of growing up with a visual impairment. She was a dynamo, and an amazing woman to listen to.
In another segment there was a Q&A with the head of a particular disability charity, who was interviewed by another lady.
The host posed the question, “How do you feel about people without disabilities advocating for the rights of the disabled?”
I had no issue with that question, I got the purpose of it and it was valid. There are those out there who are paid handsome salaries to pursue a diversity agenda, and is it right that someone without a disability should campaign for something they potentially have no lived experience of?
That’s a debate for sure.
The interviewee threw an answer back. “First of all!” They stated firmly, “We are not ‘The Disabled’, we are not not a homogenised group!”
I found the tone of her reply to be utterly unnecessary.
The context was clear and there was no malice in the line of questioning. The harsh response was one that would prompt others to judgement, and potentially sully the interpretation of the forthcoming dialogue.
The remainder of the response isn’t the focus of this story but rather the observation that those with disabilities may have particularly strong feelings about what words are used to describe them.
On that same stage, that same person mentioned that they preferred the term impaired, as society impairs them.
I’d rather be referred to a disabled, short hand for the potential of requiring support or adjustment, than impaired, which I feel suggests that I have a substantial lack of a particular function. However, this is a preference, not a need.
Please don’t take this as my ill will toward the interviewee. They have their experiences and good reason for responding how they saw fit and I would never seek to censor anyone.
We are all entitled to hold an opinion, even if that opinion is not one everyone agrees with.
I’ll be frank, I have one word that I hate above all, and that is the word “spazzy” short for spastic but solely because if was used as a taunt in high school, until I broke and retaliated against my tormentor. I’m not condoning what I did, but it stopped the bullying.
That word is my equivalent to Marty McFly being called chicken. If you call me it, I’m swinging at you and then we’re having a hoverboard chase across town!
This triggering is made only more absurd by the fact that I have a very different disability to the disability the word was previously used to describe, before the word fell out of use for good reason.
The point is, I have a particular distaste for that word due to my own experiences.
However, if you refer to me as disabled, I don’t care. I can be a person with a disability or a disabled person, I don’t take much notice of order of these words as I find it wastes time and energy.
There are those who will fight for the disabled toilet to be referred to as the accessible toilet, that’s not me
I’d rather be given the toilet key than piss myself giving a lecture on the correct name for the room.
I’d rather use my time wisely and put my efforts into increased accessibility an inclusion than be offended that someone has used an incorrect phrase in my presence.
As long as there is no malice, call me what you need to as long as we get the job done.
Society as a whole has a lot of work to do to ensure those with disabilities are given the same opportunities in life as those without. Lets bring the focus to where it should be.