For as long as I can remember, I have identified as disabled. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I think I am not “able” to do certain things, or moreover, that I let cerebral palsy hold me back from doing what I want to do, or from enjoying this life I’ve been given. It just means that I prefer to call things what they are.
When I was in college, I was interested in going away on a sponsored service trip. So I spoke with a friend who was involved in said trip. We then had a meeting with one of the college staff members because I was concerned about the trip’s accessibility. When my friend and fellow student referred to me as disabled, the staff member cut in, quite awkwardly, with “…differently-abled.”
I watched my friend, who looked disconcerted, a bit annoyed, and perhaps a little embarrassed. “We’re friends…we’ve met for lunch before…” she said, whilst blushing profusely.
I totally understood my friend’s reaction. I myself was a little taken aback by the staff member’s unnecessary interjection, because I honestly didn’t know that “differently-abled” was actually a thing until right then. Seriously though, what does “differently-abled” even mean? I didn’t get it back then, and I still don’t understand it now.
I told my friend, “It’s OK. You’re OK,” because she was. I find it really unnecessary to use all these contrived euphemisms for the sake of being gentle or politically correct, at least where my disability is concerned. Just call it what it is. Please. You don’t need to be gentle with me; I understand what my limits are and what is going on, since I’ve had CP my entire life. Nobody can try to tell me what my limits are or enforce them on me, and in reverse, nobody can make me do something I am not comfortable doing, because I know my limits better than anyone.
When the staff member cut in that I was “differently-abled,” she was imposing her own language and perceptions about what it means to have a disability onto me. While she may have meant well, I personally did not appreciate it. First of all, I thought it was rude. Second of all, this staff member was taking a sense of power away from me; a certain control I have over my diagnosis, and I assert that control by giving this diagnosis its name and not making it flowery or cute when I relay it to other people, and more importantly, when I relay it to myself. Third of all, she was making assumptions about how I refer to having CP, and she was totally incorrect about it. Again: if we are discussing my disability, just call it what it is. Being disabled is part of how I identify, and nobody has the right to overrule or erase that.